YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – As Benin approaches elections on Apr. 28, the bishops of the West African country are warning people against the “preferential option for the lie.”
“The crisis of truth prepares the way for injustice and the violent reactions of revolt and insurrection,” the bishops said in their 2019 Lenten message, which was based on the Gospel verse, “the truth will set you free” and released March 5.
“We have observed a preferential option for the lie in the political arena,” they continued.
The bishops’ statement said Christians around the world were becoming disappointed that “that their leaders and governors are increasingly discrediting themselves with their lies.”
Despite pledges of free and fair elections by President Patrice Talon, the bishops’ warning came on the same day Benin’s electoral commission announced that only two parties – the Progressives and the Republicans – would take part in the elections. Both parties are allied to the president.
Opposition political parties, who waged a futile campaign for electoral reforms, have been disallowed.
The bishops called on those in positions of power to avoid attacking citizens’ liberties.
“The dignity of the human person is sacred and must be respected by all,” they said.
With this in mind, the bishops brought up Pope Benedict XVI’s words during his 2011 visit to the country.
“Right now, there are so many scandals and injustices, too much corruption and greed, too much disdain and lies; too much violence that leads to misery and death. These problems certainly afflict your continent, but they also afflict the rest of the world…On this platform, I call on all African political and economic leaders and the world not to deprive their people of hope! Do not amputate their future by mutilating their present! Have a courageous, ethical approach to your responsibilities and pray that God gives you wisdom.”
Benin’s bishops’ conference said there was no disparity between politics and Christianity, and that Christianity would make for better politicians.
About half the country is Christian – with over half the Christians being Catholic – with the other half divided between Muslims and followers of traditional religions.
They called on the country’s leaders to adopt the “Beatitudes of Politicians,” as drafted by the late Vietnamese Cardinal Francis-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận, who headed the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace from 1994 until his death in 2002.
These have to do with politicians having “higher ideals “and a deeper understanding of their role; and living lives that make them credible political leaders.
The bishops said good politicians have to work for the good of all and not for their personal benefits; they should work for the country’s unity, they should be able to drive radical change; and they should also listen to the voice of dissent and to the problems of their people.
“For some time now, our country, Benin, has become a vast workplace of reforms and transformational projects in several domains,” they said.
“Our rulers are nursing and deploying legitimate ambitions to make our country the place to be. They clearly dream of the greater good for our country and have been investing in that with determination and hope. Like the Apostle Paul, we can only encourage them to always search for the good, and to never cease from doing that which is right,” their statement said.
But whatever the reforms, the bishops warn, they must put the human person at the center, and they must take into consideration the social, cultural, material and spiritual dimensions of the human being.
“To forget or neglect the primacy of every human being in the country’s governance, one ends up in a climate of morosity, of tension, of revolt and even of rejection.”
It is a concern the bishops expressed in mid-February when they said they were worried about the “progressive installation of a climate of fear.”
They said then that the fear stemmed from the precarious conditions under which people live, and attempts to reverse the gains that had been made in the country in terms of freedom of expression.
Their March Lenten message was more positive, emphasizing the possibility of being a good Christian and a politician at the same time.
“Even if prayer and devotion is personal and can be done privately, the daily practice of faith and Christian values must be seen in the social and political life of the Christian. All dichotomies between the professed faith and daily life is hypocrisy, because faith without work is a death,” the bishops’ statement said.
Christians have to bring a “coherent contribution so that, through politics, a more just social order, that conforms to the dignity of man can be installed.”