A courageous history, noticeably Marian since the beginning
The evangelization of Benin started with the return home of African slaves from Brazil, in the 17th century. Marian devotion followed as a natural outcome. These Christians had a deep love for the Immaculate Conception and met each Saturday to pray the rosary, the litanies and the Salve Regina in Portuguese since they had come back from Brazil.
In 1658, ten Spanish missionaries landed in the golf of Benin, with a bilingual catechism dedicated to the most holy conception of Mary. But they were perceived more as colonizers than as evangelists. Three missionaries died from illnesses and the seven others were ordered to leave.
In 1842, the task was picked up again by the Fathers of the Holy Spirit and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They arrived in Ouidah and consecrated to the Virgin the whole western coast of Africa. This evangelization respected the agricultural character of the local economy. In Akatara, the great Marian celebrations are also the occasion to bless the agricultural works (as is still the case in the Syro-Chaldean Church since centuries ago).
A spirituality both autochthon and universal
Benin gave the universal Church Cardinal Bernardin Gantin (d. 2008), prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and Dean of the College of Cardinals, who was the highest-ranking black African in the history of the Catholic Church.
Benin also produced great poets who celebrated Mary in a very profound way. We will give as an example a magnificent popular song whose author is unknown, where the history of the region transcends itself to reach all peoples.
As a last note, we should add that the Catholic Church of that country is well-known for its ecumenical and inter-faith outreach.
Attilio GALLI, Madre della Chiesa dei Cinque continenti, Ed. Segno, Udine, 1997