RABAT, Morocco -- Greeted by King Mohammed VI, a steady rain, ululating women and cheering crowds, Pope Francis arrived in Rabat March 30 for a 28-hour visit to Morocco.
In a sign of great honor, the king rode in his limousine from the airport alongside Pope Francis riding in the popemobile. They went directly to the Hassan Tower, a 12th-century minaret that is a symbol of the city.
With thousands of people gathered on the esplanade in front of the tower, which sits where the Bouregreg Rivers meets the Atlantic Ocean, the pope and the king spoke of peace, tolerance, respect and religious freedom in a country where 99 percent of the people are Muslim, but tens of thousands of Christian students and migrants live temporarily.
The king, who has the constitutionally assigned role of "commander of the faithful," told Pope Francis that role includes being "guarantor of the free practice of religion" for Muslims, Christians and Jews.
"The three Abrahamic religions were not created to be tolerant of one another out of some unavoidable fate or out of courtesy to one another," King Mohammed said. "The reason they exist is to open up to one another and to know one another, so as to do one another good."
The king, who has devoted energy and resources to training imams and other leaders and to fighting fundamentalist forms of Islam, told the pope, "What all terrorists have in common is not religion, but rather ignorance of religion."
"Religion is light; religion is knowledge; religion is wisdom," he said. "And because religion is peace, it calls for diverting the energy spent on weapons" to other, "loftier pursuits," he said.
Pope Francis described his visit as another occasion to promote interreligious dialogue as part of the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the meeting of St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in Egypt.
The meeting of the saint and sultan during the Crusades, he said, "shows that the courage to encounter one another and extend a hand of friendship is a pathway of peace and harmony for humanity, whereas extremism and hatred cause division and destruction."
Too often, the pope said, Christians' lack of knowledge of and friendship with Muslims and Muslims' lack of knowledge of and friendship with Christians has been "exploited as a cause for conflict and division."
Dialogue, he said, is the only sure way "to halt the misuse of religion to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism and the invocation of the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression."
Religion is not just about an individual's relationship with God and eventual hope of heaven, he said. All religions teach the sacredness of human life and anyone who claims faith in God must demonstrate that through the highest level of respect for the life and dignity of others.
Respect for life and for all God's gifts also implies respect for creation and caring for the poor and for migrants, the pope said. Christians and Muslims can and should work together to protect the planet and assist those in need.
Pope Francis also urged further steps in Muslim-majority countries to progress beyond seeing Christians and Jews -- "people of the book" -- as minorities to protect and instead recognize them as full citizens with equal rights and obligations.
In a joint declaration signed March 30 at the royal palace in Rabat, the pope and king said they were "deeply concerned" for Jerusalem's "spiritual significance and its special vocation as a city of peace."
Referring to the city as both Jerusalem and "Al-Quds Acharif," its Arab name, the two leaders said it was important to preserve the city "as the common patrimony of humanity and especially the followers of the three monotheistic religions, as a place of encounter and as a symbol of peaceful coexistence, where mutual respect and dialogue can be cultivated."
"It is our hope, therefore, that in the holy city, full freedom of access to the followers of the three monotheistic religions and their right to worship will be guaranteed, so that in Jerusalem, Al-Quds Acharif, they may raise their prayers to God, the creator of all, for a future of peace and fraternity on the earth."
The statement did not get into questions over political control of the city or even the ongoing international debate about moving other embassies to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
Spread mercy, build fraternity, pope urges Morocco's Christian minority
RABAT, Morocco -- Celebrating Mass with members of Morocco's tiny Catholic community, Pope Francis praised them for the many ways they "bear witness to the Gospel of mercy in this land." At the Mass March 31 in an arena at Rabat's Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, the pope honored the way that Catholics, although much less than 1 percent of the population, reach out to help their Muslim brothers and sisters and the thousands of migrants who pass through, hoping to reach Europe. "I encourage you to continue to let the culture of mercy grow, a culture in which no one looks at others with indifference, or averts his eyes in the face of their suffering," he said.
Pope visits Muslim training center, migrants in Morocco
RABAT, Morocco -- Moving from ideals and principles to concrete examples, Pope Francis met in Morocco with Muslim men and women studying to be prayer leaders and preachers and with dozens of migrants assisted by Caritas. A religious faith respectful of others and care for migrants were key themes in Pope Francis' speech at his arrival ceremony in Rabat March 30. After meeting privately, Pope Francis and King Mohammed VI went on to the school the king founded to counter violent strains of Islam by training imams and "murshid," men and women preachers and spiritual guides. And the pope ended his day at the Rabat Caritas center for migrants, a facility providing special care to women, unaccompanied minors and others among the most vulnerable of the estimated 80,000 migrants currently in Morocco. Neither the pope nor the king gave a speech at the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines and Morchidates. Instead they listened.
Mission success isn't measured by numbers, pope says in Morocco
RABAT, Morocco -- The Christian mission is not about numbers of converts, but about changing people and the world by being witnesses of God's mercy and love, Pope Francis told missionaries in Morocco. "Christians are a small minority in this country," much less than 1 percent, but the pope said, "to my mind, this is not a problem." "Jesus did not choose us and send us forth to become more numerous," the pope said March 31 as he met Catholic priests and religious and leaders of other Christian churches in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rabat. Jesus "called us to a mission. He put us in the midst of society like a handful of yeast: the yeast of the beatitudes and the fraternal love by which, as Christians, we can all join in making present his kingdom," the pope said. The success of a Christian mission, he said, is not so much about the space Christians occupy, "but rather by our capacity to generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion." "The problem is not when we are few in number," the pope said, "but when we are insignificant, salt that has lost the flavor of the Gospel or lamps that no longer shed light."
-- Catholic News Service