“Be the salt of the African earth, blessed by the blood of so many martyrs, men, women and children, witnesses of the Christian faith, even to the supreme gift of their lives!” said the Pope as he handed over his apostolic document after Sunday Mass in the Benin city of Conotou Nov. 20.

“Become the light of the world, the light in Africa which seeks, amid tribulations, the path of peace and justice for all its citizens. Your light is Jesus, the Christ, ‘the Light of the World.’ May God bless you, dear Africa!”

The Pope offered Mass before an estimated congregation of more than 80,000 people drawn from all over West Africa. The Mass took place at the Friendship Stadium in Cotonou, where he was joined by more than 200 African bishops and 1,000-plus priests from Benin.

“I hope that this exhortation will guide you in the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus in Africa,” said the Pope. “It is not just a message or a word. It is above all openness and adhesion to a person: Jesus Christ the incarnate Word. He alone possesses the words of life eternal.”

Nov. 20 also marked the Solemnity of Christ the King, which was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI as a response to growing secularism.

“On this feast day, we rejoice together in the reign of Christ the King over the whole world,” said Pope Benedict in his homily.

“He is the one who removes all that hinders reconciliation, justice and peace.  We are reminded that true royalty does not consist in a show of power, but in the humility of service; not in the oppression of the weak, but in the ability to protect them and to lead them to life in abundance.”

Just as happened at the time of Christ, the Pope said that modern man is also drawn to “success, power, money and ability,” as signs of “royalty.” Thus, he still finds it “hard to accept such a king, a king who makes himself the servant of the little ones, of the most humble, a king whose throne is a cross.”

Reflecting upon the Gospel of the day in which “the Son of Man” rewards and punishes people according to how they treated the most vulnerable, the Pope said that for Christ “to reign is to serve,” and so “what he asks of us is to follow him along the way, to serve, to be attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcast.” 

The Pope took the opportunity to give a particular greeting to the sick within the vast congregation, including “those affected by AIDS or by other illnesses.”

“Have courage!” he told them. “The Pope is close to you in his thoughts and prayers. Have courage!”

He explained that Jesus wanted to share their suffering and “to see you as his brothers and sisters, to free you from every affliction, from all suffering.”

“Every sick person, every poor person deserves our respect and our love,” he said, “because, through them, God shows us the way to heaven.”

Christ the King came to liberate everybody from both physical and spiritual affliction and to create “a new world, a world of freedom and joy,” the Pope explained.

And yet, today, “so much still binds us to the world of the past,” and “so many fears hold us prisoners and prevent us from living in freedom and happiness.” The answer is to “allow Christ to free us from the world of the past,” as it is Christ alone who “gives us the true life and can liberate us for all our fears and sluggishness, from all our anguish.”

The choice is ours, said the Pope as “we, and we alone, can prevent him from reigning over us and consequently obstructing his Lordship over our families, society and history,” if we choose not to accept his kingship. “His Kingdom can be threatened in our hearts,” he said, because “there God comes face-to-face with our freedom.”

This explains the importance he attaches to evangelization in Africae Munus,” he said.

“(T)he man of hope, the Christian, cannot be uninterested in his brothers and sisters,” but has to “make the loving face of the Savior shine in every place, in particular before the young, who search for reasons to live and hope in a difficult world!”

Therefore, just as the first missionaries to Benin had done 150 years ago, “may Jesus Christ give you strength to live as Christians and to find ways to transmit generously to new generations what you have received from your fathers in faith!”