Tue, Apr 02, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Pope finishes Morocco visit with Mass for thousands

A CALL FOR TOLERANCE:Ahead of the Mass, Pope Francis told an audience at Rabat’s cathedral that trying to convert people to one’s own belief ‘always leads to an impasse’

AFP, RABAT

Pope Francis has called for tolerance and peace at a mass for thousands of Catholics during a rare visit by a pontiff to Morocco, after warning the faithful there against trying to convert others.

Ten thousand worshippers, many migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, on Sunday packed a sports complex in Rabat as the pope rounded off his two-day stay.

“We are tempted to believe that hatred and revenge are legitimate ways of ensuring quick and effective justice,” the 82-year-old pontiff told those gathered. “Yet, experience tells us that hatred, division and revenge succeed only in killing our peoples’ soul, poisoning our children’s hopes, and destroying and sweeping away everything we cherish.”

Ahead of the Mass, the pope told an audience of about 400 at Rabat’s cathedral that trying to convert people to one’s own belief “always leads to an impasse.”

“Please, no proselytism,” he said.

Christians are a tiny minority in Morocco where 99 percent of the population is Muslim, with sub-Saharan Africans making up a large part of the country’s 30,000-strong Catholic community.

Islam is the state religion, but authorities stress Morocco’s “religious tolerance,” which allows Christians and Jews to worship freely.

However, Moroccans are automatically considered Muslim if they are not born into the Jewish community, apostasy is socially frowned upon and proselytizing is criminalized.

“I protect Moroccan Jews as well as Christians from other countries, who are living in Morocco,” Morocco’s King Mohammed VI told crowds on Saturday, following the pontiff’s arrival.

There are a few thousand Christian converts in Morocco, who since 2017 have called openly for the right to live “without persecution” and “without discrimination.”

Francis is the first pontiff to visit the North African country since John Paul II in 1985 and the cathedral had been repainted for the occasion.

Waiting outside for the pope, a Nigerian man said that the visit “shows that living together is possible in Morocco.”

However, “there are things to improve, notably the question of migrants and that of Moroccan Christians,” said 36-year-old Antoine, who works for an association to defend migrant rights.

The need to support migrants was mentioned again on Sunday by Francis, who has made the issue a focal point of his papacy.

On Saturday, he visited migrants at a Caritas charity center, where the pope criticized “collective expulsions” and said that ways for migrants to regularize their status should be encouraged.

Morocco has said that it has a “humanistic” approach to migration and rejects allegations by rights groups of “brutal arrest campaigns” and “forced displacement” to the country’s southern border.

Earlier on Sunday, Francis visited a social center run by nuns and volunteers near Rabat, including a health center where he met with children who were under treatment.

The Moroccan king also welcomed Francis to the royal palace, where the two addressed the “sacred character of Jerusalem” in a joint declaration.

The city should be a “symbol of peaceful coexistence” for Christians, Jews and Muslims, they said in a statement released by the Vatican.

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