|Birth: ||May 8, 1922|
|Death: ||May 13, 2008|
Former Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals and Cardinal Bishop of the Suburbicarian See of Palestrina, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin was one of the most prominent members of the named College. For years he was considered Papabile, the man deemed most likely to become the First Black African Pope. He spent 31 years at the Vatican, including 15 years as the powerful Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and nearly a decade as Dean of the College of Cardinals.
Born on May 8, 1922, in Toffo, within the Archdiocese of Cotonou, Benin, he was the son of a railroad employee. His last name means Iron Tree, and was clearly reflected in his Episcopal Coat of Arms. After studying for the Priesthood at the Seminary of Ouidah and at the Pontifical Urbanian Athaenaeum of Rome, Gantin was ordained a Presbyter on January 14, 1951 in Cotonou, by Msgr. Louis Parisot SMA., Archbishop of the See of Cotonou, Benin, at the age of 28. He served as Faculty Member of the Seminary of Ouidah and performed pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Cotonou until moving to Rome for further studies.
Only five years after his priesthood ordination, he was selected by Pope Pius XII to become Auxiliary Bishop of Cotonou, and became, at the early age of 34, becoming thus one of the youngest Bishops in the world. He received his Episcopal Consecration with the Titular See of Tipasa di Mauritania on February 3, 1957, inside the Chapel of the Collegio de Propaganda Fide, Rome, from Cardinal Eugène -Gabriel-Gervais-Laurent Tisserant, Bishop of the Suburbicarian See of Ostia and Porto e Santa Rufina, Dean of Sacred College of Cardinals, Prefect of Sacred Congregation Ceremonial, Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church, assisted by Msgr. Pietro Sigismondi, Titular Archbishop of the See of Neapolis di Pisidia, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide, and by Msgr. André Pierre Duirat SMA., Bishop of the Diocese of Bouaké. During the Pontificate of Future Blessed, Pope John XXIII, he became the Metropolitan Archbishop of the See of Cotonou on January 5, 1960.
Appointed Secretary Adjunct of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples on March 5, 1971, he resigned the Pastoral Government of the Archdiocese on June 28 and moved to Rome. At the age of 50, he was named Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples on February 26, 1973. On January 5, 1976, Msgr. Gantin was named Vice - President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and later Pro - President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on December 15.
In the Consistory of June 27, 1977, Msgr. Gantin then aged 55, was elevated as Cardinal Deacon of the Sacred College of Cardinals by Pope Paul VI with the Deaconry of Sacro Cuore di Cristo Re and two days later appointed President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He resigned the named posts in 1984, and was in turn appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America on April 8. During his 15 years in that post, Cardinal Gantin's most painful act may have come on July 1, 1988, when along with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he signed the Decree announcing the Excommunication of the Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Having become acquainted with Archbishop Lefebvre in Africa, where the Traditionalist Leader had been a powerful force for Evangelization in French speaking Countries during his years as an Apostolic Delegate there, Cardinal Gantin had hoped for an eventual reconciliation between the Holy See and the renegade Prelate. Long before the Final Schism, he had sought unsuccessfully to dissuade Archbishop Lefebvre from opening his famous St. Pius X Seminary at Econe, Switzerland. Gantin opted for the Order of Cardinal Priests and received the Title of Sacro Cuore di Cristo Re on June 25, 1984. On September 29, 1986, he was appointed Cardinal Bishop of the Suburbicarian See of Palestrina and on June 5, 1993, Cardinal Bishop of the Suburbicarian See of Ostia, when he was confirmed as Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, whilst retaining the Title of the Suburbicarian See of Palestrina. The Dean is responsible for convening the College of Cardinals in the event of a Conclave, administering the process of a Papal Election and asking the newly elected Pontiff if he will accept the position. In the unlikely event that the Conclave chooses a Pope who is not yet a Bishop, the Dean is also responsible for ordaining him. He was one of the last persons to speak to Pope John Paul I, just a few hours before that Pontiff's sudden death in 1978.
As a Cardinal, Gantin served as Special Papal Envoy to the Fourth Centennial Celebrations of St. Peter Claver's Birth in Cartagena, Colombia on June 24, 1980 ; Papal Legate to the 42nd International Eucharistic Congress between July 16 to 23, 1981, Lourdes, France ; Special papal Envoy to the Celebrations of the 150th Anniversary of the Beginning of the Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Papetee, Tahiti, French Polynesia, on August 10, 1984 ; Special Papal Envoy to the Celebration of the First Centennial of the Evangelization in Port-Vila, Republic of Vanuatu, on September 8, 1987 ; Special Papal Envoy to the Inauguration of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Campinas, Brazil on December 12, 1993 ; Special Papal Envoy to the Funeral of Msgr. Pierre Lucien Claverie OP., Bishop of the Diocese of Oran, Algeria, killed in a bomb explosion in Oran, on August 5, 1996 ; Papal Representative to the Funeral of King Hassan II of Morocco, Rabat on July 25, 1999 ; Special Papal Envoy to the National Eucharistic Congress of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, held between December 1 and 3, 2000 ; and Special Papal Envoy to the Conclusive Celebrations of the Evangelization of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou on January 21, 2001. He was the first, and so far the only Cardinal from the Popular Republic of Benin and the First African to be both head of a Vatican Dicastery and Dean of the College of Cardinals since the Office was established by Pope Bl. Eugenius III in 1150.
He retired from Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and from President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America at the age of 76 on June 25, 1998. He furthermore resigned the Deanship of the College of Cardinals and the title of the Suburbicarian See of Ostia, and became Dean Emeritus on November 30, 2002 aged 80.
Cardinal Gantin's residence in Rome was considered as a small slice of Africa within the grounds of the Vatican. Inside the apartment one could find a few striking African sculptures, chairs with the images of native animals carved into their wooden arms, photographs and small mementoes from Benin on walls and tables. Nuns from Benin ran the small household with a cheerful simplicity which also seemed distinctively African.
A quiet, introspective Cleric, with a reputation as a man of simple piety and steady prayer, the Cardinal was not ordinarily accessible to reporters. But he always enjoyed the company of his friends in Rome and talked freely with them about his native Country and his work as the Head of Congregation for Bishops, his most important assignment at the Vatican, and the one he held the longest. Advancing age and declining health have forced Cardinal Gantin to curtail his activities during his last years, but kept his work at home in his In May 2002, when he celebrated his eightieth birthday, he wrote to Pope John Paul II asking for permission to retire to Africa. Since he was no longer eligible to vote in a Papal Election, the Cardinal reasoned, his presence at a Conclave would not be essential, and he could relinquish his Administrative Duties as Dean of the College of Cardinals. After a few months of delay the Pope acceded to his request, and Cardinal Gantin began preparing for his final departure from Rome to his native Benin.
During his Episcopacy and Cardinalate, Gantin consecrated to the Episcopacy : Bishop Lucien Monsi-Agboka, Bishop Léon-Toussaint-Jean-Clément Chambon OFM. Cap., Archbishop Christophe Adimou, Bishop Robert Sastre, Bishop Sergio Adolfo Govi OFM. Cap., Archbishop Nestor Assogba, Archbishop Isidore de Souza, Archbishop Felice Cece, Archbishop Romeo Panciroli MCCI., Edward Michael Cardinal Egan, Bishop Antonio Santucci, Bishop Giuseppe Di Falco, Archbishop Joseph-Marie Sardou TD., Bishop Francesco Zerrillo, Bishop Mario Cecchini, Archbishop Vincenzo D'Addario, Bishop Joseph Lafontant, Archbishop Louis Kébreau SDB., Archbishop Rocco Talucci, Archbishop Andrea Mugione, Bishop Antonio Forte OFM., Archbishop Simon Ntamwana, Bishop Pietro Bottaccioli, Bishop Alfredo Magarotto, Angelo Cardinal Comastri, Archbishop Pier Luigi Mazzoni, Angelo Cardinal Scola, Bishop Vittorio Tomassetti, Bishop Paul Vollmar SM., Bishop Peter Henrici SJ., Bishop Silvio Padoin, Archbishop Marcel Honorat Léon Agboton, Bishop Antoine Ganyé, Bishop Paul Kouassivi Vieira, Bishop Paul Jean-Marie Dossavi, Bishop Pascal N'Koué, Archbishop Fidèle Agbatchi, Bishop Martin Adjou Moumouni, Bishop Clet Feliho, Bishop Victor Agbanou and Bishop Eugène Cyrille Houndékon.
He furthermore acted as Co - Consecrator during the Episcopal Consecrations of Bishop Guy-Marie-Joseph Riobé, Archbishop Robert-Casimir Tonyui Messan Dosseh-Anyron, Archbishop Luc Auguste Sangaré, Archbishop Raymond-Maria Tchidimbo CSSp., Hyacinthe Cardinal Thiandoum, Bernard Cardinal Agré, Bishop Vincent Mensah, Bishop Jean Pierre Marie Orchampt, Bishop Thomas Nkuissi, Archbishop Mario Pio Gaspari, Jean Jérôme Cardinal Hamer OP., Bishop François-Marie Morvan CSSp., Bishop Tadeusz Józef Zawistowski Bishop Appasinghe Paul Perera, Bishop Francis Anani Kofi Lodonu, Archbishop Filippo Franceschi, Bishop Antonio Mazza, Bishop José Maria Maimone SAC., Bishop Enrico Bartolucci Panaroni, MCCI., Bishop Maurice-Adolphe Gaidon, Archbishop Giovanni De Andrea, Archbishop Luigi Conti, Archbishop Oriano Quilici, Bishop Edmund Joseph Fitzgibbon SPS., Andrea Cardinal Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, Archbishop Giovanni Battista Morandini, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, Bishop Franjo Komarica, Bishop Walmir Alberto Valle IMC., Archbishop Norbert Wendelin Mtega, Bishop John Bosco Manat Chuabsamai, Bishop Felipe González González OFM. Cap., and Archbishop Donald William Wuerl.
Gantin was transferred to the Paris Hospital of Georges Pompidou from Benin when his health worsened following a Funeral Ceremony in Africa, after suffering from dehydration. Gantin died on Tuesday, May 13, 2008, at 4.45 pm., at the age of 86, inside the named Hospital due to complications caused by severe dehydration. On May 7, 2008, the President of the Republic, Chief of State and Chief of the Government, learning of the deterioration of the state of health of the Cardinal, visited him and ordered his translation to the Hospital in Paris. The transfer took place on May 8, the day of his 86th Birthday. On the day of the Cardinal's death, the Council of Ministers held an Extraordinary Session and issued a Communiqué expressing the sorrow of the Government of the Republic of Bénin to the entire Nation, to the Catholic Church, to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, to the Catholic Community of Bénin and to the Cardinal's family for the loss of the Cardinal. A delegation headed by the Minister of Health was sent to Paris to arrange the return of the body of the late Cardinal to Bénin. A period of three days of National Mourning was observed in memory of the Cardinal from Wednesday May 14. During this period, the flags flew at half mast in all the National Territory. Msgr. Anatole Dédégbé, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cotonou, expressed the sorrow of the Catholic Church in Bénin for the death of Cardinal Gantin. Upon learning the news of the death of Cardinal Gantin, Pope Benedict XVI prayed for the Eternal Repose of his Soul and sent a Telegram of Condolence to Archbishop Marcel Honorat Léon Agboton of Cotonou. On May 15, 2008, the Newspaper Le Matinal, of Cotonou, Republic of Bénin, reported that the late Cardinal Bernardin Gantin was buried on May 24, near the Altar of the Chapel of the Grand Seminary of Saint Gall, Ouidah. His mortal remains reposed in the Chapel of the house of the Sœurs Petites Servantes des Pauvres, Sixth District, 49 Rue Notre Dame des Champs, Paris, and on May 15, a large Governmental Delegation accompanied by Msgr. René Marie Ehuzu CIM., Bishop of Porto Novo, and by Msgr. Eugène Cyrille Houndékon, Bishop of Abomey, arrived in Paris to organize the repatriation of the body to Bénin. Obsequies where also Celebrated at Saint Peter's Patriarchal Basilica, by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, with the Cardinals present. At the end of the Celebration, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Faithful present and imparted the Apostolic Blessing.
On November 19, 2011, during his visit to Benin, Pope Benedict XVI prayed before the tomb of late Cardinal Gantin at the Saint Gall Seminary in the city of Ouidah.
Grand Seminary Of Saint Gall
Plot: Seminary Chapel, Beside The Altar, Next To The Vault Which Houses The Remains Of Archbishop Louis Parisot SMA., (1885 - 1960).
Created by: Eman Bonnici
Record added: May 17, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 26881520