(from Rabat) The Holy Mass of March 31 celebrated by Pope Francis at the Moulay Abdellah Sports Stadium of Rabat will be the only Mass celebrated in Morocco. All churches in the Country will remain closed as the faith community will be entirely in Rabat: priests, men and women religious, lay faithful. As many as 7 thousand people are expected to attend, although there will probably be 10 thousand people there, since the doors are also open to Muslims friends who wish to share this “festive moment” with their Christian brothers. Father Manuel Corullόn, Custos of Franciscan friars in Morocco, described the climate of expectation and preparation of the Christian community and of the small Catholic community in the Country. Pope Francis will visit Morocco on March 30-31. “Servant of Hope” is the theme of the Pope’s visit. For the Country the highlight of the Papal visit will be the embrace between Pope Francis and King Mohammed VI. The King claims to be a direct descendant of Prophet Mohammed, defined Amir al-Mur’minin, “Prince of the believers.” Upon his arrival in Morocco, the Pope will be welcomed by the people of Rabat on the esplanade of the Hassan Tower. The Holy Father will pay homage to the Mausoleum of Mohammed V and Hassan II.
These are the symbolic sites of a Country that for many years has been committed in advancing coexistence between cultures and religions, adhesion to a “moderate Islam”, or as it is called here, “fair balance.” Sunday will be the most significant day for the Christian community, under the banner of intense dialogue with Pope Francis.
The first item on the agenda is the visit to Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Golan Square, where 400 people will welcome the Pope at 10.30 am: priests, men and women religious from across Morocco along with Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant religious representatives of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, and students from the Ecumenical Institute of Mowafaqa. He will be received by Mary Donlon, (Irish) Provincial of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, and Father Germain Goussa from Burkina Faso, serving as parish priest in Casablanca. At 14.45 the Pope will Celebrate Mass in Spanish at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, with chants performed by a chorus of 500 African youths. By a fortunate coincidence the Gospel of this 4th Lenten Sunday is a passage of the Prodigal Son on the Mercy of the Father, a theme that is dear to Francis and a point of encounter in the dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews. Readings from the Gospel will be proclaimed in English, Arab and French.
A variety of idioms signalling an international Church made up for the most part of young people who travel here from Sub-Saharan Africa to attend University, along with transiting migrants and foreign workers.
“For us it’s important that for two days the entire Christian world will fix its gaze upon our Church”, said Father Corullόn: “Our presence is humble yet significant. Our Church is open to dialogue and encounter, a Church in the periphery owing to its small dimension, whose members are mostly foreigners who live out their faith with the Muslims. A large majority of our Church’s faithful are poor and migrant people. Its services are primarily directed at the most vulnerable population brackets. The importance of Francis’ visit is given by these peripheries.”
Pope Francis’ visit coincides with the 800th anniversary of the Franciscan presence in Morocco. In view of the Apostolic journey the Country pays homage to the Christian community with the inauguration on March 20 (ongoing until March 30) of an exhibition in Rabat titled “Christian presence in Morocco. Living together”, organized in conjunction with the Council of the Moroccan Community abroad (CCME). In the intentions of the promoters the exhibition was conceived as
“An opportunity to offer a retrospective on the least known chapters of a shared history based on the values of coexistence and peace.”
Eight centuries also mark the meeting in Damietta between Saint Francis of Assisi and the Sultan Al-Malik Al-Kamel, occurred in the framework of a truce of the Fifth Crusade. “In that historical moment Muslims were viewed as the enemies of the faith and as enemies of European civilization. They were fought against and needed to be stopped in their expansion across the Mediterranean regions”; said Fr Corullόn: “Francis of Assisi arrived in Damietta and presented himself to the Sultan as a man of encounter and peace.” An ideal space-time bridge links that chapter in history to our present times. Another Francis is retracing the steps of the Poor Man of Assisi to spread seeds of hope and brotherhood between these two large religious families – Christians and Muslims – through dialogue. We saw him spread those seeds no less than a month ago in Abu Dhabi. It will happen again at the end of March in Rabat. The world is afflicted by obscure thoughts put forward by those who invoke a clash of civilization. The world is still grappling with the shocking images of the attack against the Muslim communities in New Zealand. “There are many prejudices, also and especially against Islam”, pointed out the Custos. “Islamophobia is spreading across the globe and especially in Europe. The Muslim world is viewed with mistrust, diffidence and even hatred. Pope Francis is perhaps the only person who builds bridges, proposing encounter and dialogue as the only possible paths for coexistence.”