Background


Benin – Democratic republic in W Africa: capital, Porto Novo. It was settled first in the 16th century and became the Kingdom of Dahomey, which dominated the region. From 16th to 18th centuries, there were limited missionary attempts from Europe, but effective evangelization began in 1861, ten years after the French started colonizing. In 1899, Dahomey was incorporated into French West Africa. In 1946, it was redesignated a French overseas territory. The Church hierarchy was established there in 1955. In 1958, it became an autonomous republic of the French community, and gained full independence in 1960. A series of coups followed. In 1975, it was renamed Benin, and in 1977 it was made a one-party state. The Communist government nationalized Catholic schools, expelled foreign missionaries, and jailed priests. The one-party system was dropped in 1989, and in 1990 the Catholic Archbishop presided over a national conference to draw up a constitution for a multiparty democracy. The plurality of faiths, and how to keep peace among them, is a challenge the Church faces in the new century. Catholics are 25% of the population.