Perhaps more than ever before, this international trip to Benin - which Benedict XVI will begin on Friday morning, November 18th – is a sign of apostolic continuity. In Cotonou, the Pope will deliver the Post-Synodal Exhortation, Africae munus, in which the various suggestions from the special assembly for Africa of the Bishops’ Synod, of October 2009, are collected and translated into pastoral guidelines, In March of 2009, Pope Benedict delivered the Instrumentum laboris to African priests at the end of the mass celebrated in the stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon. It is a journey that was begun by Blessed John Paul II in 2004, when Pope Wojtyla and the synod fathers concentrated their attention on the Church in Africa. Today, Benedict XVI and the bishops in communion with him, have focused the role of the Church in reconciliation, justice and peace on that great continent.
Now, the process of applying those guidelines begins. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the pastors of the Church in Africa are called in the coming decades to put into practice its theological and pastoral recommendations.
The title of the exhortation, “The commitment of Africa” suggests in itself the Pope’s recommendation: to put the future of the continent back in the hands of Africans and their Church. And to the Church, he reiterates the priority of the missio ad gentes, announcing the Gospel to those who still do not know Jesus Christ. An invitation to renew the Gospel message every day, in a way which brings about a new evangelization, characterized by the commitment to promote reconciliation, justice and peace. Benin has become a symbol of the continuity of the African teachings of the bishop of Rome. The choice of Benin is not by chance: the country celebrates more than a hundred years of faith and remembers one of its most illustrious members, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, whose name in the idiom of his birthplace, means, “iron tree” of the land of Africa. During his long service in the Roman Curia, Cardinal Gantin maintained strong ties with his people and his country. Today, they venerate him as “Father of the Nation,” and his tomb, in the chapel of the San Gall seminary in Ouidah, is a place of continual pilgrimage. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Pope will pray at the tomb before signing the post-synodal exhortation.