Pope Francis arrived in Morocco for his two-day apostolic visit to the North African country which is 99% Muslim. He was warmly greeted by King Mohammed VI, called ‘Commander of the Faithful’. Russell Pollitt SJ is in Morocco and reports on this historic encounter.
After arriving at Rabat airport, for his two-day apostolic visit to Morocco, Pope Francis was greeted by King Mohammed VI in the pouring rain. He was then accompanied by the king through the streets of Rabat to the Hassan Tower, travelling alongside the king — who was in his open-top black Mercedes — in the popemobile.
Thousands lined the streets, braving the wet to get a glimpse of the pope and the king together.
Addressing the people of Morocco, authorities, representatives from civil society and the diplomatic corps; Pope Francis said that he was grateful that his visit offers him the opportunity for advancing interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding. This happens, he said, at a time when we commemorate the historic meeting between St Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil.
The Holy Father said that faith in God “leads us to acknowledge the eminent dignity of each human being, as well as his or her inalienable rights.”
He went on to say that “freedom of conscience and religious freedom — which is not limited to freedom of worship alone but allows all to live in accordance with their religious convictions — are inseparably linked to human dignity.”
He said that this “entails encountering and accepting others in their distinctive religious beliefs and enriching one another through our diversity, in a relationship marked by good will and by the pursuit of ways we can work together.”
In his welcoming speech King Mohammed VI said: “As king of Morocco and Commander of the Faithful, I am the guarantor of the free practice of religion. I am Commander of believers”. He said that he wants to ensure the freedom to practice the religions of the book in Morocco.
“I protect Jews, as well as Christians from other countries, who are living in Morocco,” the king said.
He lamented that interreligious dialogue has been going on for a long time but that it has not yet achieved its goal. He said that the reason the three Abrahamic religions exist “is to open up to one another and know one another so as to do one another good.”
He said that “when paradigms are shifting everywhere and concern all matters, interreligious dialogue must evolve too”.
The King also pleaded for religion to be given its rightful place in education. “Today, religion should no longer be alibi for ignorant people, for ignorance or for intolerance”.
He said that because religion is peace, “it calls for diverting energy spend on weapons and other misguided races towards loftier pursuits”.
Pope Francis said that “there is a constant need to progress beyond mere tolerance to respect and esteem for others”.
The Holy Father told Moroccans that “Christians are deeply appreciative of the place accorded them in Moroccan society. They wish to do their part in building a fraternal and prosperous nation, out of concern for the common good of its people.”
He said that the Catholic Church in Morocco is making a contribution by providing social services. He said that the Church’s schools were “open to students of every confession, religion and background.”
As expected, Pope Francis also spoke about migration. He said that “today’s grave migration crisis represents an urgent summons for concrete actions aimed at eliminating the causes that force many people to leave country and family behind, often only to find themselves marginalised and rejected.
He said that he trusted that Morocco “will continue to be an example of humanity for migrants and refugees within the international community, so that here, as elsewhere, they can find generous welcome and protection, a better life and a dignified integration into society.”
The Holy Father warned that “raising barriers, fomenting fear of others or denying assistance to those who legitimately aspire to a better life for themselves and their families,” will never resolve the issue of migration.
In his speech the King too underlined that the migration policy he has instituted is “fundamentally based on solidarity”.
Pope Francis said that true peace “comes through the pursuit of social justice, which is indispensable for correcting the economic imbalances and political unrest that have always had a major role in generating conflicts and threatening the whole of humanity.”
In conclusion the Holy Father said that he thanked God “for all that has been accomplished, allow me to encourage Catholics and all Christians to be servants, promoters and defenders of human fraternity here in Morocco.”
The pope then went to lay a floral tribute on the Mausoleum of the Kings of Morocco and sign the Book of Honour. The Holy Father wrote:
“On the occasion of my visit to this Mausoleum, I invoke Almighty God for the prosperity of the Kingdom of Morocco, asking Him to make brotherhood and solidarity between Christians and Muslims grow!”
He then departed for a private visit with the King and shortly thereafter to the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines and Morchidates.
Pope Francis also signed a special appeal, together with King Mohammed, making an appeal for Jerusalem. The appeal recognises the “uniqueness and sacredness of Jerusalem”, and calls for the city to be preserved as a “common heritage of humanity and especially for the faithful of the three monotheistic religions, as a meeting place and symbol of peaceful coexistence, where mutual respect and dialogue are cultivated”.