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Symposium in Benin 2013,
Initiative of Bishop Adoukonou, financed by the Fondazione Vaticana and supported by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Benin Bishops' Conference and the Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI Foundation. staffed

On the Jesus trilogy by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. 








"Evangelizing the soul of Africa in depth" (Africae munus, 91)

Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus Books at the service of the Church in Africa

As we stepped onto African soil on the evening of September 13 after landing, heavy, humid, muggy, tropical air hit us in the face. It was already dark. In the small arrivals hall people crowded around suitcases, passports and entry visas. Africa - West Africa - Benin: A small country with a narrow coastline where only 150 years ago the first missionaries arrived to preach the "Gospel of Christ, the Son of God" (Mk 1:1). We were allowed to follow in their footsteps. Bishop Barthélémy Adoukonou, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, had members from the Disciples and the New Disciples Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. invited together with Belgian and French theologians to read the Pope's Jesus books in the African context and to explore various topics from them in a scientific symposium. A large number of priests from Benin, university professors from various disciplines, lawyers and psychologists, seminar rectors, seminarians and theology students, nuns and interested lay people from Benin and neighboring West African countries accepted the invitation to the "Centre de Recherche et Spiritualité" in Cotonou.

Africa in the Year of Faith! Benin, the place of origin of the traditional religion of Vodun, had once again opened the heart to Christ, as is impressively demonstrated by the monument at the former slave port next to the "Porte du Non-Retour" (Gate of No Return) of Ouidah. In the "Porte du Salut" (Gate of Salvation), designed as a wall similar to the slave monument, the opening for the Gospel has taken on the geographical contours of Benin. In 1861 the first missionaries landed here in Dahomey, today's Benin, where thousands upon thousands of slaves were once ruthlessly and cruelly shipped under the most inhumane conditions. In the relief of the front of the monument, facing the Atlantic Ocean, ten rays erupt from the heavenly symbol of the Most Holy Trinity. This corresponds to ten outstretched hands of the people depicted in the lower area of the portal, which catch the rays. Not a ray is lost, the whole gospel, the unadulterated Torah of the New Moses, was taken up in Benin and translated into its own culture.

It is not for nothing that Bishop Adoukonou dedicates himself tirelessly to the topic of inculturation and even founded the Sillon Noir ("Black Furrow", or more freely translated "African Culture") movement for this purpose, from which a separate community has grown, which bears the name of Our Lady of of inculturation bears: "Notre Dame de l'Inculturation". The aim of the inculturation movement is to take up valuable elements of traditional religion and inculturate them into Christian life, such as traditional dances and songs with their rhythms and instruments. In the process, Adoukonou became more and more aware that it ultimately had to be about a conversion deep in the heart. It is not enough to simply Christianize traditional elements. If the church in Africa sees itself as the family of God, but tribes are still fighting other tribes (such as the sad reality in the bloody conflict between members of the Hutu and Tutsi tribes in Rwanda), the faith in Christ that binds everyone is not yet deep enough penetrated hearts, has not yet fully unfolded its transforming and renewing power in Africa.

But as in Europe, albeit under different circumstances, a new evangelization is also needed here. The influences of the Vodun, which makes up 50% of the population, are still very strong. In the historic port city of Ouidah, the religious center of Vodun, an African youth who had positioned himself in front of the Catholic Church opposite the traditional snake temple, when asked by our African companions who he was, introduced himself as follows: "I am a Son of the Temple of the Python!" Belief in Jesus Christ must assert itself against ancestor worship and other magical practices. The fear of being cursed, the power of the deceased and the worry of being worshiped as a small idol after death oppress Christians. That is why the topic of inculturation is so important here. A university professor told us, "I don't want to be worshiped as a deity in my village after I die! So I must work now for the inculturation of the gospel."

In addition to the problem of the traditional religions, the struggle of the old church for the right faith is repeated in the young church in Benin. Who is Jesus Christ, who is the Holy Spirit and how are the two related? Two years ago, after a woman paralyzed in both legs was cured by a Catholic priest, she sees herself as the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. Parallels to Manichaeism with its founder Mani, who saw himself as the incarnation of the Paraclete, come to mind. In Benin, a new heretical-schismatic group has also gathered around the healed woman: the private Catholic Church Banamé (Église Catholique Privée de Gbanamé), to which thousands of Catholics – priests, religious and lay people – have joined. Why? Where does the fascination with this sect come from? People say that if the Holy Spirit incarnates here in our country, in Benin, then we must support it!

Thus, the importance of Bishop Adoukonou's theological initiative, funded by the Fondazione Vaticana and promoted by the Pontifical Council for Culture, with the patronage of Cardinal Ravasi, the Benin Bishops' Conference and the Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI Foundation, became increasingly clear to us. was supported by staff. In preparation for the symposium, from 16.-18. September three intensive reading days (lecture guidée) organized in the "Centre de Recherche et Spiritualité" with five half-day units on various topics from the Jesus books. Divided into two groups, the approximately 50 participants studied under the direction of Father Jacques Servais from Rome and members of the student groups of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. (P. Stephan Horn and Michaela C. Hastetter), after each theological introduction, individual chapters of the three volumes, which were then discussed and deepened together. Hermeneutical questions were dealt with, but also aspects of content such as the question of miracles, death and resurrection, the Beatitudes, the Johannine image of water, but also overarching themes such as waking up and awakening.

The theological symposium, which was announced as "Colloque international sur les trois tomes de Jésus de Nazareth de Joseph Ratzinger", continued the topic for a wider audience from September 18th to 22nd. The lectures were mainly about a theological examination of the Pope's Jesus books, but also about other aspects of his theology on politics and society: How does Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI read. in his Jesus books the Holy Scriptures, with which hermeneutics does he develop the gospel (JP Sonnet, O. Arthus), what is the position of the Holy Spirit in his work and in particular in the Jesus books (MC Hastetter), how is his spirituality understood and how does he interpret the Beatitudes (St.O. Horn), to what extent are exchange and brotherhood an aspect of the communio-ecclesiology of the pope (J. Servais), how does the relationship between Jesus' prayer and christological statements appear in the Jesus books (J. Pech) and what implications arise from the Jesus books for state and politics (F. Louzeau, C. Ohly) - all questions to which the individual lectures of the symposium attempted to give an answer. In the afternoon, the thematic units of the lectures for the African context were discussed and pastorally deepened and continued with the help of keynote speeches by African theologians and lay people.

At the opening of the symposium on September 18, 2013, high-ranking church representatives were present, who addressed greetings to the participants: the Apostolic Nuncio Mons. Brian Udaigwe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture Mons. Barthélémy Adoukonou, the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Proto-Novo Mons. Jean-Benoît Gnambodè, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cotonou P. Philippe Kinkopn, Prof. Albert Tévédjè, Mediator of the Republic and Fr. Edouard Adè, Director of the Center for Inculturation and Spirituality in Cotonou. The scientific colloquium was held in two different parishes in Cotonou with St. Fair started and finished. Choirs with traditional chants in the local language Fon musically arrange the services, which let us Europeans experience the topic of inculturation in Africa existentially. In the sermons, the people of God now also shared in our exchange of ideas, which had led to the center of faith, to Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. In his homily at the opening of the symposium, Bishop Adoukonou warned urgently: "We must step out of our particularisms in order to set out on the ascent to the living and true God." At the end of the intensive study week, a young African, who is currently studying theology in Rome, regretted: "It is a pity that this event did not last two weeks, so we could have encountered Christ even more."

Looking back on the eleven-day stay in Benin under the cloudy and almost entirely gray sky with which the country looked forward to the rainy season, we all feel great gratitude: reading and studying the Jesus books by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI . in the encounter with a very young and dynamic African church, which welcomed us so hospitably and let us participate in its living culture, made us Europeans the recipients. Friendships had been made, e-mails exchanged and plans made for further Ratzinger Study Days in Africa. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of this event in the Year of Faith in Cotonou.

Michaela C Hastetter










Photos: Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI Foundation

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