VATICAN CITY, 20 NOV 2011
Today, Solemnity of Christ the King, the Holy Father concelebrated the Eucharist with more than 200 African bishops and around a thousand Beninese priests at the "Stade de l'amitie" in Cotonou. Among those present were Thomas Yayi Boni, president of Benin, as well as many other institutional figures and some 30,000 pilgrims, not just from Benin but also from Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and Burkina Faso. The ceremony was held in Latin, French, Mina, Yoruba, Dendi, Portuguese and English.
Extracts from Benedict XVI's homily are given below.
"It is a great joy for me to visit for the second time this dear continent of Africa, coming among you, in Benin, to address to you a message of hope and of peace. ... Our Eucharistic celebration on the Solemnity of Christ the King is an occasion to give thanks to God for the 150 years that have passed since the beginnings of the evangelisation of Benin; it is also an occasion to express our gratitude to Him for the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of African Bishops".
"The Gospel which we have just heard tells us that Jesus, the Son of Man, the ultimate judge of our lives, wished to appear as one who hungers and thirsts, as a stranger, as one of those who are naked, sick or imprisoned, ultimately, of those who suffer or are outcast; how we treat them will be taken as the way we treat Jesus Himself. We do not see here a simple literary device, or a simple metaphor. Jesus' entire existence is an example of it. ... He who had nowhere to lay His head, was condemned to death on a cross. This is the King we celebrate!
"Without a doubt this can appear a little disconcerting to us. Today, like 2000 years ago, accustomed to seeing the signs of royalty in success, power, money and ability, we find 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. And yet, the Scriptures tell us, in this is the glory of Christ revealed; it is in the humility of His earthly existence that He finds His power to judge the world. For Him, to reign is to serve! And 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 baptised know that the decision to follow Christ can entail great sacrifices, at times even the sacrifice of one's life. However, as St. Paul reminds us, Christ has overcome death and He brings us with Him in His resurrection. He introduces us to a new world, a world of freedom and joy. Today, so much still binds us to the world of the past, so many fears hold us prisoners and prevent us from living in freedom and happiness. Let us allow Christ to free us from the world of the past!"
"The words of the Gospel are truly words of hope, because the King of the universe has drawn near to us, the servant of the least and lowliest. Here I would like to greet with affection all those persons who are suffering, those who are sick, those affected by AIDS or by other illnesses, to all those forgotten by society. Have courage! The Pope is close to you in his thoughts and prayers. Have courage! Jesus wanted to identify Himself with the poor, with the sick; He wanted to share your 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 because, through them, God shows us the way to heaven".
Christians, builders of peace
"This morning, I invite you once again to rejoice with me. One hundred and fifty years ago the cross of Christ was raised in your country, and the Gospel was proclaimed for the first time. ... Everyone who has received this marvellous gift of faith, this gift of an encounter with the risen Lord, feels in turn the need to proclaim it to others. ... And this duty is always urgent! After 150 years, many are those who have not heard the message of salvation in Christ! Many, too, are those who are hesitant to open their hearts to the Xord of God! Many are those whose faith is weak".
"The Church in Benin has received much from her missionaries: she must in turn carry this message of hope to people who do not know or who no longer know the Lord Jesus. ... The Christian is a tireless builder of communion, peace and solidarity, gifts which Jesus Himself has given us. By being faithful to Him, we will cooperate in the realisation of God's plan of salvation for humanity".
"I urge you, therefore, to strengthen your faith in Jesus Christ, to be authentically converted to Him. He alone gives us the true life and can liberate us for all our fears and sluggishness, from all our anguish. ... 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!"
The Holy Father then addressed some words in English to pilgrims from Ghana, Nigeria and neighbouring countries. "Christ reigns from the Cross and, with His arms open wide, He embraces all the peoples of the world and draws them into unity. Through the Cross, He breaks down the walls of division, He reconciles us with each other and with the Father. We pray today for the people of Africa, that all may be able to live in justice, peace and the joy of the Kingdom of God".
Finally, the Pope had words for Portuguese-speaking pilgrims, whom he invited "to renew your decision to belong to Christ and to serve His Kingdom of reconciliation, justice and peace".
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