DAILY CATHOLIC    MONDAY     April 19, 1999     vol. 10, no. 76


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      This new feature that we introduce today will spotlight each member of the Conclave. We find this necessary as our dear Sovereign Pontiff Pope John Paul II grows older, clinging to hope, as we join him, of seeing the light of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart with the dawn of the new millennium - the Jubilee Year 2000. How much longer this 264th successor of Peter has left on this earth only God knows for sure, but His Divine Mercy is evident in allowing him to be with us this long for he truly is a saint for our times, truly Christ's Vicar on earth in these waning days before the glorious Reign of the Sacred Heart, the Time of Peace, the Era of the Eucharistic Presence, the New Pentecost, the Second Advent, the Age of the Holy Spirit. What 1999 will bring we have no idea, nor does anyone else, but with John Paul II at the helm, we feel much more secure in knowing God's Will will be done. Nevertheless, we want to preview the future Pope whether that be soon or much, much later, for no one lives forever and eventually one of those prelates will be selected as the 265th successor of Peter. This will give the reader a better insight into the man whom the Holy Spirit will move the conclave to choose. Thus we bring the reader vignettes on each cardinal in alphabetical order gleaned from the Catholic Almanac, Inside the Vatican and other sources.

45.   Cardinal Bernardin Gantin

          At 77, Benin's Cardinal Bernardin Gantin is the Dean of the College of Cardinals. The influence of the Ivory Coast has been felt in Rome through the work of Gantin who was born on May 8, 1922 in the village of Toffo, Benin in the Archdiocese of Cotonou. His father was a railroad worker and his name is appropriate, meaning "Tree" (Gan) "of iron" (tin). He has been a tree of iron for the Church. Hearing the call he entered minor seminary at 14 and was ordained at the age of 29. He taught language at the seminary until Pope Pius XII summoned him two years later to Rome to study there at the College of St. Peter. While there he obtained his degrees in Theology and Canon Law from the Pontifical Urban University and Lateran University before being named titular Bishop of Tipasa di Mauritania and auxilary bishop of his home archdiocese of Cotonou on February 3, 1957. Three years later on January 5, 1960 he was assigned Archbishop of Cotonou where he would remain for the next eleven years, devoting his episcopasy to meeting the needs of all his flock, especially the native nuns and clerics. He also served as president of the Regional Episcopal Conference of the Ivory Coast during this time. In 1971 another Pope called him to Rome - this time Pope Paul VI who appointed him Secretary of the Vatican's Propaganda Fide which Pope John Paul II reorganized on June 28, 1988 calling it the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

          In 1975 the Holy Father promoted him to Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace and a year later he became President of the same commission where he would remain until 1984 in that capacity. In Paul VI's final Consistory, Cardinal Gantin was honored with the cardinalate and received his red-hat on June 27, 1977 receiving the titular church of the Sacred Heart of Christ the King as a cardinal deacon. On April 8, 1984 John Paul II promoted him to the dual role of Prefect for the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, a position Cardinal Gantin still holds. On September 29, 1986 he was transferred to the order of cardinal bishops and received the titular bishopric of the Suburbicarian See of Palestrina. Seven years after that on June 5, 1993 he was elected the Dean of the body of bishops comprising the Sacred Conclave.

          Other curial responsibilities include membership in the second section of the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic LIfe, and the Congregation for Catholic Education. He also is extremely involved in the Apostolic Signatura Tribunal and the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. All in all, few prelates have been as involved in so many aspects of Church life than Cardinal Gantin but his age precludes him from becoming the first African papal possibility. Yet it could open the door for other fellow black prelates, most notable being Cardinal Francis Arinze and Cardinal Alexandre do Nascimento.

          Benin's Catholics encompass 21 per cent of the population in this fairly small country on the Ivory Coast that up until 1976 was known as Dahomey. It is a Democratic republic in west Africa bordering on the Atlantic to the south. The majority of Christians in Benin are Catholic and the hierarchy was established in 1955 with Cardinal Gantin being in on the ground-floor. Missionary efforts began in the sixteenth century and continued sporadically through the eighteenth century. It was in 1861 during the papacy of Pope Pius IX that the country was effectively evangelized. Today the capitol is Porto Novo on the coast where the Archdiocese of Cotonou has it headquarters.

April 19, 1999       volume 10, no. 76


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