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Size doesn’t matter — Pope Francis tells Christians in Morocco

On Sunday, Pope Francis visited a social centre in Temara on the outskirts of Rabat, where he encouraged the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul in their work of helping the poor. He then met with the faithful, religious and priests in Rabat’s cathedral before celebrating Mass in the afternoon, bringing to an end his two-day apostolic visit to Morocco. Russell Pollitt SJ writes from Rabat.

On the second and final day of Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Morocco, the pope met with the small Christian community in Rabat. There were not even enough people present to fill the Cathedral of St Peter. He told the faithful, religious and priests gathered that Jesus did not send us to be numerous, but, rather, sent us on mission.

The Pope said, “[t]he problem is not when we are few in number, but when we are insignificant, salt that has lost the flavour of the Gospel or lamps that no longer shed light.”

“Our mission as baptised persons, priests and consecrated men and women, is not really determined by the number or size of spaces that we occupy but rather by our capacity to generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion,” the Pope said.

God calls us to mission and “we should worry whenever we Christians are troubled by the thought that we are only significant if we are the flour, if we occupy all the spaces. You know very well that our lives are meant to be ‘yeast’, wherever and with whomever we find ourselves, even if this appears to bring no tangible or immediate benefits.” 

Pope Francis addresses Catholics in St Peter Cathedral, Rabat // Russell Pollitt SJ, spotlight.africa
Pope Francis addresses Catholics in St Peter Cathedral, Rabat // Russell Pollitt SJ, spotlight.africa

Earlier in the morning, the pope visited a social centre in Temara run by three sisters from the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. The 44-year-old centre was founded to cure burns often suffered by children and adults cooking over open fires outside their homes.

The sisters provide children with breakfast, a snack, lunch, and school lessons daily. They also help local women with formula, diapers, and food for their newborns. At the centre, illiterate women are helped to read and taught to count change when they go to the market.

In the cathedral, the Holy Father went on to say that the Christian faith is not about adherence to “a doctrine, a temple or ethnic group” but an “encounter.” It is an encounter in which we know that we have been forgiven and are asked to treat each other as God has treated us.

He also told those present that consecrated people are not called to “govern” the people entrusted to them but to “love” them.

In the majority-Muslim country, the pope touched again on the theme of interreligious dialogue. He thanked the religious for the work they are doing saying that, daily, they are “discovering through dialogue, cooperation and friendship the way to sow a future of hope.” It is through dialogue that we unmask “attempts to exploit differences and ignorance in order to sow fear, hatred and conflict.”

He expressed his gratitude for what he called an “ecumenism of gestures” saying that people of goodwill are called to work together for the vulnerable. It is by doing this that a “culture of encounter” is created.

Pope Francis greets Trappist Fr Jean-Pierre Schumacher (95) in Rabat // Russell Pollitt SJ
Pope Francis greets Trappist Fr Jean-Pierre Schumacher (95) in Rabat // Russell Pollitt SJ

Also in the cathedral, was ninety-five-year-old Fr Jean-Pierre Schumacher, the last surviving monk of the Tibhirine monastery in Algeria, where, in 1996, seven monks were kidnapped and killed by Islamist extremists. On 8 December 2018, those killed were beatified along with 12 others who died in Algeria’s armed conflicts between government forces and rebel Islamist groups. Despite the civil war, the Trappist community stayed in the country to live among Muslims. 

To end his visit the pope celebrated Mass at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium. The stadium was packed to capacity, the largest Mass in Morocco’s history.

The Mass reflected the fact that the Church in Morocco is an immigrant Church. French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish and English were all used in the liturgy, led by an enthusiastic choir. The pope entered the sports complex to jubilant crowds shouting “Papa Francesco”. High-ranking government officials were also present in traditional Moroccan attire.

Pope Francis incenses the altar at mass in Morocco // Russell Pollitt SJ, spotlight.africa
Pope Francis incenses the altar at mass in Morocco // Russell Pollitt SJ, spotlight.africa

In his homily, the pope reflected on the parable of the Prodigal Son. He said that the parable teaches us “no one should have to live in inhuman conditions, as his younger son did, or as orphaned, aloof and bitter like the older son. His heart wants all men and women to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

The Holy Father went on to say, “many situations can foment division and strife, while others can bring us to confrontation and antagonism. It cannot be denied.”

He said we are tempted to think that hatred and revenge are “legitimate ways of ensuring quick and effective justice.” But, he continued, experience teaches us that all we succeed in doing is “killing our people’s souls, poisoning our children’s hopes, and destroying and sweeping away everything we cherish.”

Francis again warned against measuring or classifying according to different “moral, social, ethnic or religious criteria.” He said that we need to recognise that Another exists: “the realisation that we are beloved sons and daughters, whom the Father awaits and celebrates.”

Pope Francis preaches at mass in Morocco // Russell Pollitt SJ, spotlight.africa
Pope Francis preaches at mass in Morocco // Russell Pollitt SJ, spotlight.africa

At the end of the homily, he thanked the Christians of Morocco for the way that “they bear witness to the Gospel of Mercy in this land.” He encouraged them to let the “culture of mercy grow” by creating a community in which nobody looks at others with “indifference or averts his eyes in the face of suffering.”

“Keep close to the little ones and the poor, and to all those who are rejected, abandoned and ignored. Continue to be a sign of the Father’s loving embrace,” said the Pope.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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Russell Pollitt SJ
Director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa and Editor-in-Chief of spotlight.africa. He studied the social sciences, theology and communications. He worked as pastor of the Jesuit’s downtown parish in Johannesburg, South Africa, for 7 years before moving to the Jesuit Institute. He is interested in the relationship between faith and society and the contribution that faith can make to public policy. He regularly comments on politics in South Africa and issues in the Catholic Church. He conducts workshops in South Africa on social media and the human person.

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