VATICAN CITY, 20 NOV 2011 (VIS) - At 4 p.m. today, the Pope arrived by car at the Cardinal Bernardin Gantin airport of Cotonou for the departure ceremony at the end of his apostolic trip to Benin. The event was attended by representatives from the civil authorities, the bishops of the country and numerous faithful.

Following an address from Thomas Yayi Boni, president of Benin, the Holy Father spoke to thank the authorities, bishops, volunteers and all the people of Benin "for their warm and enthusiastic welcome", and for the efforts they had made to ensure the success of his visit.

"I wanted to visit Africa once more; it is a continent for which I have a special regard and affection, for I am deeply convinced that it is a land of hope", Benedict XVI said. "Here are found authentic values which have much to teach our world; they need only to spread and blossom with God's help and the determination of Africans themselves. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation 'Africae munus' can greatly assist in this, for it opens up pastoral horizons and will lead to creative initiatives. I entrust it to the faithful of Africa as a whole, to study carefully and to translate into concrete actions in daily life. Cardinal Gantin, that eminent son of Benin whose greatness was so widely acknowledged that this airport bears his name, took part with me in a number of Synods. He made a vital and much-appreciated contribution to them. May he accompany the implementation of this document!

"During my visit I was able to meet various components of Benin's society and many members of the Church", the Pope added. "These numerous meetings, very different in nature, testify to the possibility of a harmonious coexistence within the nation, and between Church and State. Good will and mutual respect not only aid dialogue, but are essential for building unity between individuals, ethnic groups and peoples. The word 'fraternity' is the first of the three words found on your national emblem. Living in unity as brethren, while respecting legitimate differences, is not something utopian. Why should an African country not show the rest of the world the path to be taken towards living an authentic fraternity in justice, based on the greatness of the family and of labour? May Africans be able to experience reconciliation in peace and justice! These are the prayerful good wishes which I express to you, with confidence and hope, before I leave Benin". In his final act before departing, the Holy Father entrusted the entire continent to the intercession of Our Lady of Africa.

The papal plane landed at Rome's Ciampino airport at 10 p.m., whence the Holy Father returned to the Vatican.

PV-BENIN/                                               VIS 20111121 (470)

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