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from issue no. 05 - 2008

In memory of Cardinal Bernardin Gantin


Cardinal Bernardin Gantin

Cardinal Bernardin Gantin

On 13 May, the anniversary of the first Marian apparition in Fatima, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin’s earthly life ended. A few days before, 8 May, the day of the Supplication to the Madonna of Pompei, he had celebrated his 86th birthday. With his passing the African Church loses one of its more significant figures. Gantin was in fact, in 1960, the first black metropolitan archbishop of his continent. Subsequently he was the first African to be called to roles of great responsibility in the Roman Curia. First, in 1971, as Assistant Secretary of Propaganda Fide, then as President of “Iustitia et Pax” and “Cor Unum”, and then, from 1984, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops. He, coming from black Africa, found himself at the head of the ministry that most closely collaborates with the Pope in the choice of “white” bishops (for the mission territories in fact this task belongs to Propaganda Fide).
The death of Cardinal Gantin is also a loss for the universal Church. The cardinal participated in Vatican Council II and the two conclaves of 1978. From 1993 to the end of 2002 he was also Dean of the College of Cardinals. Then, on reaching eighty, he asked to be allowed to return to his native land with the title of Dean Emeritus.
Deeply attached to his roots, Gantin was also deeply Roman. And not only because he passed 31 years of his life in the Eternal City. If there was in fact an aspect of the figure of Cardinal Gantin that always struck his interlocutors it was his love for Rome and the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. It was proverbial that for as long as he was able the cardinal never missed the mass that was celebrated every 6 August in the City to commemorate the death of Paul VI, of that Pope Montini who had called him to Rome to serve in the Roman Curia. One remembers with what affection he always spoke of John Paul I. The esteem and the respect that the cardinal always had for John Paul II was enormous. With Benedict XVI finally the bond was a completely special one: Ratzinger and Gantin were in fact created cardinals in the same consistory, that of 1977, the last summoned by Paul VI. Not only that. Interviewed by 30Days in 2002 the cardinal explained his pain at “the many criticisms... often unjustified” that he had heard directed over the years at the Roman Curia and indicated Cardinal Ratzinger as an “exemplary” figure, a “true model for all the Curia”. “Those who have had the good fortune to know him personally”, he added, “have been able to appreciate the delicacy, the sensibility, the courtesy, the simplicity with which Ratzinger faces the cases, often difficult, that are put before him”. The cardinal was not materially able to give his vote in the 2005 conclave. But an American journalist has written that on leaving his position as Dean of the College Cardinal Gantin favored his replacement by Ratzinger, then vice dean, and thus in some way objectively helped the election of Benedict XVI. History does not deal with the hypotheses, obviously, but it does not displease us to imagine that things went just like that.
In short, Cardinal Gantin always loved the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. And he always loved Rome, so much so that he wanted to return to Africa, as he always repeated, as a “Roman missionary”. In the farewell mass in Rome, celebrated in the early morning of 3 December 2002, the cardinal exclaimed: “May my tongue cleave to my palate, and my right hand be paralyzed if I forget you, O Rome, the new Jerusalem, goal of so many pilgrims from the entire world...”.
Finally, the passing of Cardinal Gantin is also a loss for our magazine, toward which he never failed to manifest his own paternal good will. The cardinal in fact did not give interviews, with the exception of those granted to our Gianni Cardinale. And to remember him we thought to publish in the pages that follow two of the most significant of those discussions with our monthly.

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