VATICAN CITY, NOV. 15, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The director of the Vatican press office says that Benedict XVI's trip to Benin this Friday aims to encourage the whole African continent.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said this when he presented the Friday through Sunday papal trip at a press conference Monday.
This is the Holy Father's second journey to Africa; he visited Angola and Cameroon in 2009.
The Pope's first priority in Benin will be the signing of the postsynodal apostolic exhortation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. The signing ceremony is due to take place in the presence of 35 presidents of national episcopal conferences, and the seven heads of the continent's regional conferences.
Father Lombardi noted Benin's unique role in the Church in Africa. Though there are scarcely nine million inhabitants in the small country, it was from Benin that evangelization spread to neighboring countries, starting 150 years ago.
"[The visit] will certainly arouse an atmosphere of hope for the African Church, and be an encouragement to the continent of Africa as a whole," Father Lombardi said. "Naturally, it will emphasize existing problems, but from a positive perspective, underlining commitment to reconciliation, justice and peace, and the announcement of the Gospel as part of man's integral development. In other words, the trip seeks to be extremely constructive."
Another key moment will be the Pope's visit to the tomb of Beninese Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who died in 2008 but is still much loved by his people. This affection is shared by the Holy Father because Cardinal Gantin "was very close to the Pope for various reasons, having been prefect of the Congregation for Bishops at the time that Benedict XVI was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and having been his immediate predecessor as dean of the College of Cardinals," the spokesman explained.
"In Benin," Father Lombardi noted, the cardinal is "considered as a national hero, a person who enjoys truly immense public affection. For this reason, the Pope's visit to his tomb will be one of the most significant episodes of the trip."
Benin has a population of nearly 8.8 million, nearly 3 million of whom are Catholic. In Benin, there are 11 bishops, 811 priests, 1,386 religious, 30 lay members of secular institutes and 11,251 catechists. Minor seminarians number 308 and major seminarians 497.