Pope Francis highlighted the issue of migration during his historic visit to Morocco, even as he called upon the Catholics in the country to refrain from attempting to converts Muslims to their religion.
Francis who is the first pontiff to visit the North African country since John Paul II in 1985, also addressed several issues including the contentious issue of Jerusalem.
In this article, we take a look at some of the key messages from the pope’s two-day state visit in the North African nation.
Raising barriers won’t solve immigration
The head of the Catholic Church said on Saturday the plight of migrants was “a wound that cries out to heaven” and could never be healed by physical barriers.
In recent months, migration has again risen to the fore of national political debates in a number of North African and European countries and the United States.
“The issue of migration will never be resolved by raising barriers, fomenting fear of others or denying assistance to those who legitimately aspire to a better life for themselves and their families,” Francis said at the welcoming ceremony.
Morocco has become a key departure point for African migrants trying to reach Europe after crackdowns that closed or limited routes elsewhere. Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister has closed ports to rescue ships run by charity groups.
Francis, who has made defence of migrants and refugees a key part of his preaching, said he was concerned about their “frequently grim fate” and receiving countries must acknowledge that migrants were forced to leave their homes because of poverty and political upheaval.
In defence of Morocco’s Islam
Pope Francis also backed Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s efforts to spread a form of Islam that promotes inter-religious dialogue and rejects violence in God’s name.
“I protect Moroccan Jews as well as Christians from other countries, who are living in Morocco,” King Mohammed VI told crowds on Saturday, following the pontiff’s arrival.
Francis and the king visited an institute the monarch founded to train imams and male and female preachers of Islam.
Morocco, which is almost entirely Muslim, has promoted itself as an oasis of religious tolerance in a region torn by militancy. It has offered training to Muslim preachers from Africa and Europe on what it describes as moderate Islam.
Francis, making the first papal visit to Morocco in 34 years, praised the monarch for providing “sound training to combat all forms of extremism, which so often lead to violence and terrorism, and which, in any event, constitute an offence against religion and against God himself”.
Pope’s message to Morocco’s Catholics
The 82-year-old pontiff called for tolerance and peace at a mass for thousands of Catholics, after warning the faithful there against trying to convert others.
“Often 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 at a sports complex in Rabat on Sunday where he said mass.
“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 insisted to an audience of around 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 and authorities are keen to stress the country’s “religious tolerance”, which allows Christians and Jews to worship freely.
Protecting Jerusalem’s sacred character
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.
“The specific multi-religious character, the spiritual dimension and the particular cultural identity of Jerusalem… must be protected and promoted,” said the text, which was jointly signed at Rabat’s royal palace.
The Moroccan king chairs a committee created by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to safeguard and restore Jerusalem’s religious, cultural and architectural heritage.
Jerusalem’s status is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel sees the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.ALSO READ: Pope’s Sept. 2019 triple M visit to Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius