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"BENIN - A BEACON OF LIGHT IN THE AFRICAN HORIZON"
by Msgr. José Antonio S. Galvez
Secretary General,
Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle, Rome

 

A friend from Benin arrived last month and begged that I make a visit to his country. "Yes, I will do that" but I could not say when because I was occupied with work in the International Secretariat. I even had a remorse because I already postponed this trip last year and so I came up with a solution, "If you can get the PMS president's blessing for this trip, then I will definitely go". Lo and behold, my friend did exactly what I said, so off  I went for this very incredible and fascinating odissey.

Benin is a narrow wedge of territory in Western Africa comprising of 43,000 square miles. It has a population of 6,787,625 of which 50% are 14 years and below (picture n.1). Picture n.1

The people are mostly animistic and about 30% of the population are Christian. Most of the inhabitants (or 36%) depend on agriculture with cotton, palm products and cacao as the main cash crops. The airport is located at Cotonou, the country's biggest city, so I quickly booked myself in one of the few international flights available.

Arriving at the airport at 8:30 pm, I was met by my friend, Fr. Dorothée Hamaouzo, who whisked me through immigration and customs. Since it was late, he brought me quickly to the Nunciature for supper and then made me rest at the Archbishop's house. After that 8 hour flight all the way from Rome, I slept soundly like a baby.

The next day, Fr. Dorothée, who is also the PMS National Director, and I had breakfast together with the Nuncio, Msgr. Pierre Nguyen Van Tot (picture n.2)

Picture n.2
The National Director presented the whole itinerary and program to him. We also proceeded to visit Cardinal Bernardin Gantin. We asked for his suggestions for he is the highest ranking Catholic leader in Benin. 

And so let us start with some more pictures so that all of you can get a roving feeling of the beauty and wealth of faith which I discovered during my 6-day journey which took me more than 2,500 kilometers around Benin. 

March 24
March 25
March 26
March 27
March 28
March 29
March 30
Encore
  

March 24:
I had a chance to see Ouidah which is historicaly the place where in the 16th and 17th centuries the African slaves where shipped from into the new world, particularly to Brazil (picture n.3). 

Picture n.3
I was in this same place or port that the early missionaries arrived to bring the faith to Benin. During the Jubilee Year of 2000, this monument called as "the Gate of Salvation" was constructed to commemorate the missionaries'arrival" (picture n.4). Picture n.4

After this sight, I was bought to a sprawling complex of buildings - the Archdiocesan Catechetical Center - where a lot of materials are prepared and printed not only for Benin but for neighbouring countries as well (picture n.5).Picture n.5
In the afternoon, I had the chance to visit "St. Joseph du Lac Minor Seminary." I was able to encounter the seminarians and see their facilities, one of which serve as the showers. Actually in this picture, you could see it as a roofless building (picture n.6). Picture n.6

By suppertime I was in "St. Gall Seminary" which is the venerable institution started by the French missionaries to train Benin's first major seminarians. We had used one of the seminary walls as an improvised screen and it was my very first time to make an outdoor audio-visual presentation. Anyway, after my talk and open forum, I had the chance to present some gifts and the picture of our foundress, Jeanne Bigard to Fr. Charles Alexander Whannou, the Rector of  "St. Gall Seminary" (picture n.7).
Picture n.7


March 25:
After Mass and breakfast at St.Gall, we made a short stop to greet Msgr. Victor Agbanou, and get a glimpse of the construction for Lokossa's future cathedral (picture n.8). Picture n.8

After this, we were on the road again towards Tchanvedji where I visited Benin's second major seminary, "Msgr Louis Parisot" (picture n.9). Picture n.9

With Fr. Pascal Guezodje who is the Seminary Rector, I toured the grounds and you can see him standing in the future Dining Hall which the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle is helping to build (picture n.10).   Picture n.10
After meeting the seminary fathers and talking to the seminarians in the chapel, it was another long stretch of travel to the other side of the country. It was a welcome respite (and of course, the refreshing drinks!) as we said hello to the novices of the "Soeurs de Saint Augustin" in Porto Novo (picture n.11). Picture n.11  Anyway the day is not yet over as I invited all my new novice friends to come to Misserete where "St. Joseph's Propaedeutic Seminary" is located (picture n.12). That same evening, I encountered both communities and explained the works of the Pontifical Society not only in Benin but across the world. 

Picture n.12
  

March 26:
After an early Mass with the St. Joseph community (picture n.13), Picture n.13 it was time to pay respects to Msgr. Marcel Agboton, Bishop of Porto Novo, who just celebrated his 8th episcopal anniversary the previous day. I wanted to stay longer but I had meetings to attend - first of which was with the rectors and PMS animators. 

I encouraged them strongly with the work which they are rendering to the Church. Then I met 5 Bishops of Benin's southern province and discussed with them my initial findings regarding the seminaries. There was no time to rest because right after lunch, Msgr. René-Marie Ehuzu brought us to his diocese of Abomey. But there were other novices to visit as seen with these Benin religious whom we encountered at Calavi (picture n.14). Picture n.14  

This happened at the novitiate of the "Oblates Catéchistes Petites Servantes des Pauvres" (O.C.P.S.P.). It is a joy to see so many candidates to the religious life, and as in the picture where you see them holding prayer cards, I asked them to continue to pray for more missionary vocations. By nightfall, we made it to Djime where we have "St.Paul's Minor Seminary". After our supper and program, I was able to speak to the seminarians and then talked privately with the Rector, Fr. Irenée Zountangi. Then off to bed for a much needed rest.
 

March 27:
I concelebrated with Bishop Ehuzu for the community mass and after breakfast, I had a quick tour of the seminary together with the formators (picture n.15). Picture n.15  

Onwards to the next village ... but first we had to make some stops: at the Marian Shrine and then the Bishop's house in Dassa-Zoume. In this striking countryside which in a way resembles Lourdes, France - there is a huge church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and it is a popular place among thousands of pilgrims. I also made my personal prayers and had this picture taken with Fr. Dorothée Hamaouzo who was my constant travel companion (picture n.16). Picture n.16
We arrived at Parakou by 2 p.m. After lunch and a brief rest, the diocesan director accompanied us to "Msgr. Guy Riobe Pastoral Center." Here I talked to those who teach and give courses to the young religious (picture n.17). Picture n.17
Speaking of young religious, there was also some time to greet the aspirants and postulants of the O.C.P.S.P. Picture n.18(picture n.18)
Finally we were due at "Our Lady of Fatima Minor Seminary." It was another huge audience (for we had also invited the sisters of the Pastoral Center and the postulancy to join us) and by means of the presentation, a lively dialogue followed. Here we see Fr. Dorothée exhorting the whole audience to be more missionary conscious (picture n.19). We slipped back to the Archbishop's house to get a good night.Picture n.19


March 28:
It was another long drive after Mass and breakfast. Next stop was Natitingou and we made a short stop and paid respects to Bishop Pascal N'Koué. He personally accompanied us to visit "St. Peter's Minor Seminary" (picture n.20). Picture n.20

The community met us at the gate  (picture n.21) and we made a procession for the chapel (picture n.22). 

After prayers, we had a simple lunch and I quickly went to work.  I explained the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle to the seminarians and then gave animation materials to the Bishop and the PMS diocesan director (picture n.23). Picture n.23

There will always be time for a seminary tour and of course, a community picture. And what a better site to take the picture than in front of the statue of St. Peter which stands in the middle of the seminary grounds (picture n.24). Picture n.24

We bid adieu to the community to proceed to Djougou for a night in the Bishop's house.

 

   
March 29:
I joined the Bishop of Djougou, Msgr. Paul Vieira and his community (there was a group of Sisters of St. Augustine staying with him) for Mass and prayers. Last night, I had a very productive discussion with Bishop Vieira on the challenges which Benin faces for her missionary future; got the chance to visit some PMS projects which included "Saint Ambrose Center." In this complex where the diocese's lay leaders are trained, I met its director who is also the diocese's Vicar General, Fr. Michel Guichard who is a SMA (Societé des Missions Africaines) Missionary from Lyon, France (picture n.25). Picture n.25
We returned to the Bishop's house where we had a meeting with the PMS Diocesan Directors and Bishops of Benin's northern province. After our audio-visual presentation and the discussion, we had lunch together and decided to record this meeting for posterity (picture n.26). Picture n.26

I bid Bishop Vieira goodbye for it was now time to return to Cotonou. Arriving around 7:30 pm at the Archbishop's House, Fr. Dorothée and I had a quiet supper by ourselves for a change.

 
  

March 30:
I woke up and joined Fr. Dorothée's parishioners for Sunday Mass (picture n.27).Picture n.27 After which, we had to bid goodbye to our host, Archbishop Assogba and to His Eminence, Bernardin Cardinal Gantin. 

I had the chance to see the Cathedral  of Cotonou (picture n.28) Picture n.28 and our PMS office at "Paul VI Center" (picture n.29). Picture n.29 It is in these modest quarters that the National Director, Fr. Dorothée, plans the activities for missionary animation in Benin. Around supper time, I packed my things and proceeded to the Nunciature. I had the opportunity to meet some archdiocesan mission collaborators including the former Mayor of Cotonou, Mr. Jerome Danjinou, and his wife (picture n.30).Picture n.30 I gave a parting message and I had to leave for the airport. This evening, by 11:15 pm, my trip to Benin officially came to an end.

 

   
   
Encore:
Some thoughts kept drifting back to my mind about the memorable 6-day journey. A striking thought is what you are seeing in this picture. During our visit to "St. Ambrose Center" of Djougou, out of the nowhere a little girl came out and approached us (picture n.31). Picture n.31We did not know her name and Fr. Dorothée spontaneously approached her. 

This girl was carrying two mangoes. When Fr. Dorothée asked for a mango, she immediately handed one to him. I felt amused so I quickly snapped this picture. Bu afterwards, Fr. Dorothée asked for the second mango and without any hesitation, she also gave it to him. Noticing that she had nothing in her hands, she smiled at us.

It struck me as a beautiful representation of this country. Truely, Benin is blessed by the rich character of her people - so generous to even share the barest essential and most precious in their life - their faith. Inspite of political uncertainty and economic woes which surround her, BENIN is bound to shine as a guiding  beacon for this vast continent of Africa. May the Lord of the Mission accompany her in her future destiny.
 

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