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Benin’s Religious Leaders Seek “peace that comes from God” Ahead of Presidential Election

Archbishop Roger Houngbédji greets Benin's president of the constitutional council Joseph Djogbenou during the prayer service at Our Lady of Mercy Cathedral in Cotonou Archdiocese.

Religious leaders in the West African nation of Benin are praying for peace ahead of the presidential election scheduled to take place on April 11.

The Thursday, March 25 prayer session saw religious leaders gather at Our Lady of Mercy Cathedral of Benin’s Cotonou Archdiocese.

“We are gathered to pray, to pray for peace, the peace that comes from God,” the Local Ordinary of Cotonou Archdiocese, Archbishop Roger Houngbédji said during the prayer service that took place on the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

Archbishop Houngbédji explained, “True peace is the peace that comes from God and not the peace given by the world. The peace that we are called to accept as believers is a gift from God.”

To achieve peace, the Beninese Archbishop invited the people of God in the West African nation to “respond to God's call to become peacemakers” as they prepared to take part in the Presidential election.

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“We are invited to open our hearts to the Word of God, to develop a true trust in God and to renounce our selfish interests,” the 57-year-old Archbishop said.

On the same day, Benin's National Independent Electoral Commission launched the campaign for the country's presidential election, Xinhua News reported.

The incumbent, President Patrice Talon, who has been in power since April 2016 is seeking a second term in office.

Tension has been mounting in the West African nation that has at least 4 million registered voters.

In November 2019, members of Parliament in Benin passed a new electoral law that requires aspiring presidential candidates and their running mates (Vice President) to have the sponsorship of at least 10 percent of the Mayors or their respective Deputies.

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However, the Beninese parliament is made up of Deputies who are from the President’s political party, a situation that was seen to compromise the pluralism of presidential candidates.

Three citizens in the West African nation reached out to the country’s Constitutional Court asking for the abolition of the sponsorship system. On January 8, the Court declared that it does not have the competence to deal with the issue. 

In January, Catholic Bishops called on politicians and the leadership of institutions organizing the election to engage in an open dialogue for a peaceful, inclusive, democratic and transparent election.

In the January 27 collective statement, members of the Episcopal Conference of Benin (CEB) highlighted “the growing differences between the political players in the race, the electoral calendar, and sponsorships” as some of the factors that might cause instability in the country.

CEB members invited the people of God in the country to “fast and to pray urgently for peace and cohesion among the sons and daughters of Benin.”

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Meanwhile, on Wednesday, March 24, representatives of the various religious denominations in Benin gathered at the tomb of late Archbishop Isidore de Souza to pray for peace.

“We are going through a tense period. We humbly ask the Creator of heaven and earth to help us out of this crisis. We have concerns. But, please God and the spirits of our ancestors, there will be no bloodshed,” the representative of indigenous religions in Benin, Dah Gbèdiga Adoko said during the March 24 prayer event.

On his part, the representative of the Islamic community, El Hadj Yèkini Abou said, “We are afraid. And, in such a context, we can only turn to our heavenly Father.”

Also speaking at the interreligious prayer event, the President of Catholic Christian Observatory for Governance (OCCG), an organ of CEB, Fr. Nathanaël Yaovi Soédé implored, “Our country today, Lord, needs you to renew the graces you gave to Archbishop Isidore de Souza so that, as citizens, religious and political leaders, we may each have a heart for this country, (and) an actor of dialogue, reconciliation, mutual forgiveness and peace.”