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Bernardin Gantin (8 May 1922 – 13 May 2008) was a Beninesemarker cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the highest-ranking black African in the history of the Catholic Church, though three early Popes came from the Mediterranean shores of the African landmass.

Early life and ordination

Born in Toffomarker, Benin, his name means tree of iron (gan, iron and tin, tree ), which explains his coat of arms. He entered the minor seminary at age 14 in Benin, and achieved priesthood in 1951 under Archbishop Louis Parisot. In 1953 he was sent to Romemarker to study theology and Canon law.


He was consecrated bishop of Tipasamarker of Mauritaniamarker and Auxiliary of Cotonoumarker in 1957 by Cardinal Eugène-Gabriel-Gervais-Laurent Tisserant, to whose then post of Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals he would one day succeed.


In 1960, Pope John XXIII appointed him Archbishop of Cotonou. After he attended the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI appointed him to the Roman Curia and made him a Cardinal in the consistory of 1977. He was named President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum by Pope John Paul I, the only administrative appointment of that month-long papacy. During the Conclave following John Paul I's death, Cardinal Gantin was thought to be one of the papabili, those cardinals who are considered favorites to be elected pope.

Congregation for Bishops

Under Pope John Paul II he headed the Congregation for Bishops, supervising episcopal appointments throughout the world, from 1984 to 1998. Cardinal Bishop of the suburbicarian diocese of Palestrina since 1986, he was Dean of the College of Cardinals from 1993 to 2002 when he retired to move home to Benin. (He added the suburbicarian diocese of Ostia when he became dean and relinquished it when he retired.) Because he turned 80 on 8 May 2002, Cardinal Gantin was not eligible to vote in the 2005 Papal Election.

Death and mourning

Gantin died in Parismarker on 13 May 2008, five days after his 86th birthday. The Beninese government declared three days of mourning for him, beginning on 14 May.

Following his death, a telegram was sent by Pope Benedict XVI to Marcel Honorat Léon Agboton, the current Archbishop of Cotonou, after the death of Gantin was announced. The telegram described Gantin as "an eminent son of Benin and Africa who won great respect within the universal Church". The Pope wrote "I ask God the Father, from Whom all mercy comes, to welcome into His light and peace this eminent son of Benin and of Africa who, universally esteemed, was animated by a profound apostolic spirit and by an exalted sense of the Church and her mission in the world."

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