By Helen Blakesley,
Here in Benin, the roads have re-opened, the banners are down, you could say “the Pope has left the building”.
But for one Catholic priest, working in the Diocese of Abomey, 2 hours north of the capital Cotonou, “out of sight” is certainly not “out of mind”.
Father Eustache Nobimè is Diocesan Coordinator for Catholic Relief Services’ partner organization Caritas. He’s been a priest for 11 years. And this was his first Papal sighting. Father Eustache got closer than most – he met Pope Benedict in the small coastal town of Ouidah when His Holiness came to speak to members of West Africa’s oldest seminary, Saint Gall.
“It was really emotional for me,” Father Eustache confided. “I bless the Lord that He gave me this opportunity to see him. Even if I didn’t have the chance to touch him or shake his hand, at least I can say that I’ve seen the Pope with my own eyes! It’s a great joy.”
But we’re not just talking another case of being star struck by the Pontiff’s presence. It goes deeper than that for the Father. He believes the visit will have a lasting effect on him and his country.
“For me and for all Catholics here, the visit has given us pride in our faith, and a pride in being a member of a big family. It shows us we have our place in the world and we have our own voice, with our own word to say.”
After visiting the seminary where Father Eustache trained, Pope Benedict XVI presided over a ceremony in Ouidah’s basilica, just across the street from the town’s voodoo Python Temple. Voodoo priests had been invited to take part too. The ceremony was for the signing of the Apostolic Exhortation—the Pledge For Africa—the Holy Father’s ‘papal roadmap’ for the future of the Church on the continent.
For Father Eustache, the recommendations, which are based on the theme of ‘reconciliation, justice and peace’, are extremely pertinent and much needed.
“In Africa there are wars : between countries and ethnicities, wars about mineral wealth and politics. People are obliged to flee into the forests or to neighboring countries. I’m hoping that the Exhortation will help us to solve these tensions,” he said.
“We need to take the road of reconciliation. But reconciliation without justice will not bring a solid peace. Justice without reconciliation would be like pure vengeance or score settling. So, we need both reconciliation and justice so we can have real peace in Africa.”
Caritas in the Diocese of Abomey is going to make sure that believers at all levels will be able to share in the document and understand its guidance. The organization plans on inviting a representative from all 60 parishes in the diocese, to study the pledge together and ask questions. They’ll each then take back that new understanding to their parish, to be put into practice there.
The high point of Pope Benedict’s second visit to Africa was, for some, an open-air Mass at the Friendship Stadium in Cotonou in front of tens of thousands of faithful. The Pope’s homily struck a chord with Father Eustache. Largely a reflection on the gospel reading from St. Matthew: “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” His Holiness emphasized the importance of caring for the poor, the weak and the marginalized.
This is at the root of Father Eustace’s work with Caritas and the work of the Church in Benin. “We play a deeply social, deeply human role. We work for the promotion of women. We care for those who are disabled – physically or mentally. People living in dire poverty. The Church is dedicated to these people, so we can give them back their dignity as a child of God,” Father explained.
“I think that the Pope’s visit will comfort the Church in Benin, will strengthen it and allow it to play this role.”
So, Benedict XVI may have physically left the soil of Africa, but he’s left behind him words of encouragement, and a hope that Africa will become the “spiritual lung” of humankind. Father Eustache Nobimè will be holding on to that encouragement.
“When you see the real misery, the destitution amongst our people, you sometimes ask yourself ‘will we be able to get through this?’ You can get discouraged or demotivated. But then you have to say to yourself, God will do His work through us, we are but instruments in His hands. The fight goes on!”
“The Pope’s visit has encouraged me to serve the Church through the work that has been entrusted to me. To help the poor, the vulnerable, the downtrodden, so that their human dignity might be affirmed.”
Helen Blakesley is CRS’ regional information officer for West and Central Africa. She is based in Dakar, Senegal.
One Response to “Benedict XVI in Benin: A Lasting Impression”
Leave a Comment
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.