Showing God's love
Dr Kazimierz Szałata interviews priest dr Bernard Guidio, the secretary of the Commission 'Iustitia et Pax' for Western Africa and who was responsible for the organisation of the Holy Father's visit in Benin
DR KAZIMIERZ SZAŁATA: - The Holy Father Benedict XVI visited the capital of Benin - Koton. Priest, you were a responsible person for preparing this visit, important not only for the Church of Benin but also for the whole African continent. What fruits does the African Church expect today after the Pope's pilgrimage?
FR.DR. BERNARD GUIDO: - When we learnt that Pope Benedict XVI was going to come to us, we were jumping from joy. For, we knew well that it was going to be a great event of our Church and country. It must be pointed at once that this visit was organized for three reasons. One of them was to pass the Post-Synodal Exhortation 'Africae Munus', addressed to the Church of the whole Africa. The second reason was the 150th anniversary of evangelization in Benin, celebrated this year, and exactly speaking, the beginning of the African mission by Sisters of Our Lady from the Disciples from Lyon. The third reason was a desire expressed by Benedict XVI to visit the grave of his friend, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin who had received a cardinal's hat on the same day as Benedict XVI. Cardinal Ratzinger promised that he would visit the country of his friend. However, he became Pope and he could not fulfil this promise before but only now. Thanks to that, Benin could host not Cardinal Ratzinger but Pope Benedict XVI now. The first synod for Africa was a synod of Resurrection and hope, whereas another one was a synod of Pentecost, so that our Church would open to new horizons and undertake current real problems and challenges of the African Church and the society. The first synod showed us that if the Church wants to evangelize the world, it also must evangelize itself. The second synod repeated the challenges undertaken before and whose realization may help to get inward renewal. The Church must get strong from inward in order to be the source of reconciliation, forgiveness and strength in the context of the current problems in Africa, in order to build the common future. God's word, which the Holy Father has brought to us, is supposed to be a sign of unity for us, despite of any differences which divide us. The place of the meeting between these and other people is supposed to be peace and justice. However, it is all about building a permanent peace - based on forgiveness, peace which comes from God and which Christ gives us.
- The visit of Benedict XVI in Benin was a great undertaking from the point of view of logistics, especially that Pope came not only to the meeting with the faithful of the Church in Benin but also to the meeting with the whole African church.
- In fact Pope visited Benin but it was mainly a meeting with Africa. The first most important phase of preparations for the Pope's pilgrimage was our common constant prayer, in other words - spiritual and inward preparation to welcome our Guest. For, it was about welcoming a Vicar of Christ who brings us a word of the Good News. However, from the material point of view we had to mobilize our efforts to welcome the Holy Father and representatives of the whole African Church with dignity. The organization, protocol, necessary finances, transport, accommodation in hotels and parishes, security of big congregations including the Holy Mass on sport areas of Koton. We did all this with the highest carefulness.
- What is the place of the Catholic Church in Benin?
- Benin is not purely a Catholic country; it is still a mission area. According to statistics, the majority of inhabitants of our country are believers of traditional African religions. But despite that, in the social life the presence of the Catholics or Christians is visible. There are also believers of Islam. So, we have a big differentiation but we can be glad about the coexistence of peace, with maintained mutual respect. We trust that this good atmosphere will become deeper and stronger, especially thanks to a strong position of a family which is not divided, despite frequent differentiation. Awareness that being believers of different religions, we are inhabitants of the same village, the same town, the same region, helps us avoid quarrels and look for the common ways of mutual agreement.
- Unforgotten Pope John Paul II used to say that the African Church is the hope of the general Church. As far as I understood these were not words dictated by a pure courtesy but they contained an important message and a challenge for the African Church.
- The message of Pope John Paul II has been allowing us to live with hope for years and helps us overcome the temptation of pessimism. We must start looking at Africa - despite its wounds and everything difficult - through a vision of new life. The Holy Father confirmed our conviction that Africa is able to open to new life. In the quoted words of the Pope there is a wise pedagogy. As a good teacher he does not say: 'you are a bad student', but through the words of encouragement he states: 'you can do it better'. He motivates us to become mature and grow in holiness. Whereas, unfortunately, we tend to stop over what was bad. It is a special and important message for us, the Africans. We must at last believe in ourselves, not look only at other countries but become the pioneers of the future ourselves. Our continent has great possibilities and a great task - to show the whole world the love of God which we experience with such a power. The present pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI will surely help us with it.