“A historic moment” for Morocco and the country’s small catholic community. A journey under the banner of dialogue with Islam in particular, of a Christian faith which lives in ecumenical harmony in a majority Muslim land, at at the service of the most vulnerable: the migrants. These are the three traits characterising Pope Francis’ trip to Rabat on March 30-31, which Msgr. Cristóbal López Romero, archbishop of Barat, who introduced today the Pope’s visit to the local press, illustrates to SIR. The motto of the visit is “Servant of Hope”, with the Christian cross and the crescent in the colours of Morocco and the Holy See. Journalists were handed a dossier desribing how the Pope will be met by King Mohammed VI and that his trip to Morocco will be under the banner “of interreligious dialogue, mutual understanding between the followers of the two faiths and the promotion of peace and tolerance”. The visit takes place in the year of the 800th anniversary of the meeting between Saint Francis of Assisi and the sultan al-Malik al Kâmil, as well as the anniversary of the Franciscan presence in Morocco (1219-2019). Thirty-four years after the visit of John Paul II (on August 19, 1985), this new journey represents therefore a “moment that will keep alive this message of peace between Christians and Muslims”. Another noteworty feature of Pope Francis’ trip is the solidarity with migrants “in a country – the dossier states – that chose a policy of worthy and courageous reception from the very beginning.
It is a chance to reaffirm Pope Francis’ support for the Global Compact on Migration of the UN, adopted in Marrakesh last December, and appeal once more to the international community to work with responsibility, solidarity and compassion towards migrants”. The dossier highlights some practical information as well as laying out the Pope’s visit to Rabat step-by-step. Between 7,000 and 10,000 people are expected to attend the Pope’s mass, which will be celebrated on Sunday March 31 at the Prince Moulay Abdellah stadium. Members of the country’s catholic community will be there as well as “all the friends of the Catholic Church”. The Gospel will be that of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, in the sign of the “Mercy of God”, which resonates with the “compassionate and merciful God” invoked at the beginning of every sura of the Koran.
Over the last 15 years, Morocco has welcomed many students from sub-Saharan countries, many of whom are Christians, and their presence has re-invigorated the local Catholic Church. There are 30,000 Christians in Morocco, of whom 20,000 are Catholics and 10,000 are Protestants. It is a young Church, whose members’ average age is about 35 years old. SIR spoke on the phone with the archbishop of Rabat, Msgr. Lopez Romero, before the Casablanca press conference.
With what words did you introduce Pope Francis’ trip to the journalists?
It is a historic moment. It takes place in a context of interreligious dialogue. This trip is very important for the people of Morocco because it is in some way a recognition of Morocco’s efforts to progress towards a moderate, tolerant, dialoguing Islam.In what state of mind are the Moroccan people awaiting Pope Francis?
The media has yet to draw attention to the news of his arrival. In these days Morocco received first the King of Spain and only a few days ago Prince Harry with his wife. The newspapers have published the program of the Pope’s visit but expectations have yet to start. We expect that with this press conference in Casablanca, news of Pope Francis’ arrival will begin to take hold on public opinion in the coming days.
Yours is a small Catholic community. What does it mean for the Church in Morocco to welcome Pope Francis?
It is our Father who arrives, and he comes to confirm us in the three theological virtues.
He comes to confirm us in faith, he comes to give us hope (a propos, the motto of the visit is “Servants of Hope”) and he comes to embrace us in love so that we may be love in this country.
Morocco is a country of transit for the many migrants who attempt to reach Europe from Africa. What is the Church’s effort to aid these people?
It is a very big effort. We call ourselves the Church of the Good Samaritan, and just like the Good Samaritan of the Gospels, we want to heal and cure the injured and the sick.Morocco is not only a country of transit, as you said. It is also a country of emigration, given that many Moroccans migrate to Europe, and it is also a country of destination. There are people from Sub-Saharan Africa who choose to stay here in Morocco. What we try to do is provide answers, especially to the most vulnerable ones. We can’t do everything, but there are over 120 people in the country’s two dioceses, Tangier and Rabat, who are professionally employed by Caritas to help migrants. Caritas is the most important organization in Morocco working with migrants. We carry out our task following the 4 verbs of Pope Francis: Welcome, Protect, Promote, Integrate. We work on these four levels but especially to welcome and protect the most vulnerable migrants. Every year over 11,000 migrants are welcomed and protected by Caritas, and the Church sets aside a sizeable budget for this purpose.