Benin, CRS Singer Tune Up for Pope’s Visit

Benin singer

Eve Amoussouga, in white blouse, rehearses with the Cotonou Diocesan Choir. She is project manager for Palu Alafia, CRS Benin’s malaria project. She’s also going to sing for the Pope during his Benin visit on November 18-20. Photo by Helen Blakesley/CRS

By Helen Blakesley,

Benin is all a-buzz. Streets are being cleaned, the flags are being hung and the Popemobile has already been out for its practice run.

This little hammer-shaped country in West Africa is no stranger to Papal visits: She’s welcomed John-Paul II twice. But this is the first time Benedict XVI has honored the nation, and on only his second visit to the continent.

The Pontiff’s imminent arrival holds an added thrill for one particular CRS Benin staff member. Eve Amoussouga is project manager for Palu Alafia, CRS Benin’s malaria project. She’s going to sing for the Pope.

“I’m part of the Cotonou Diocesan Choir—the Choir of a Thousand Voices. We’re going to sing for the Mass he’ll be celebrating at the Friendship Stadium on Sunday” Eve explains. “We’re really practicing hard and have stepped up rehearsals. The Pope’s coming to Benin but He’s coming for the whole of Africa so we’re going to sing in lots of different African languages so that all Africans can really be a part of his stay here.”

There are approximately 9 million people living in Benin. Two million of them are Catholic. The country represents another success story for Catholicism and its incredible growth in Africa, an increase of almost 7,000 percent during the 20th century.

“For Benin, the Pope’s visit confirms that our country is a country of peace,” says Eve. “For Africa, it means we’re really a part of the Catholic faith, that we really count amongst the world’s Catholics and that great things are possible in Africa. It’s a real sign of hope for us.”

Benin fabric

Fabric depicting the Pope sells like hot cakes as Cotonou prepares for the Papal visit. Photo by Helen Blakesley/CRS

His Holiness will spend three days in Benin (Friday November 18th to Sunday November 20th) fulfilling a busy schedule—10 major talks at 16 events. One of the reasons for His visit is to present an important document on the future of the Church in Africa. The Apostolic Exhortation will lay out the conclusions of the 2009 special Synod of Bishops for Africa which brought more than 200 bishops to Rome and focused on “the church in Africa in service to reconciliation, justice and peace”.

The visit will also represent the climax of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the beginning of Benin’s evangelization. The Holy Father will visit Ouidah, once a center for voodoo and of the slave trade, where the first missionaries disembarked. Ouidah is also the resting place of a close friend and former colleague of Pope Benedict XVI. Cardinal Bernardin Gantin of Benin died in 2008. As dean of the College of Cardinals, he was the highest-ranking black African in the history of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict will pray at his tomb.

And is Eve nervous about her moment in the spotlight?

“Yes! It’s a very important person we’re singing for. We’re not allowed to mess it up! But if the equipment works, if we do our bit, and if all the instruments behave themselves, it’ll all go well. It’s a great honor, a great privilege to witness such an event, especially as we’re able to be a part of it.”

Helen Blakesley is CRS’ regional information officer for West and Central Africa. She is based in Dakar, Senegal.

Listen to a sample track of the Benin choir here.

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