Visit of Pope Francis to Morocco, March 30 and 31, 2019

What a joy to welcome the Pope “to our home”! It was an emotional and grace-filled time, a real gift! He came to reassure us in our faith, revive our hope, and stimulate us. And he helped us to appreciate once again the richness of our life in this country. We awaited Pope Francis’ visit with great joy, hoping that following his visit to the United Arab Emirates in February 2019, this visit would mark a new stage in Muslim-Christian relations. And our expectations were not disappointed! This visit was mostly a meeting of believers, the Pope and the King first, but of all of us who share strong convictions, Muslims and Christians and also Jews, and who believe that human brotherhood and sisterhood have their foundation in God.

Pope Francis came to visit Morocco at the invitation of King Mohammed VI and the Catholic Church in Morocco. For the organizers of this visit, the preparation was laborious because it was necessary to accommodate both royal protocol and the very precise ideas of the Vatican. The local Church could not get as involved as it would have liked! The program for the two day visit (27 hours exactly!) was really full. We invite you to relive the highlights with us!

The 1st day was mainly dedicated to the meeting with the King and the Moroccan people. From morning on, no cars were allowed to circulate in the whole centre city of Rabat. Even the tram stopped. But there were buses everywhere driving in all directions bringing people from all over the country. 800 buses were reportedly requisitioned by the State to transport the people for free. That’s without counting, of course, all the buses coming from all the parishes of Morocco….

“I loved the atmosphere in the taxi, full of joy and excitement. The driver asked us for the latest information on when and where the Pope was coming and hurried to call his wife who wanted to go.” (L.Sister Lucile)
“Our taxi-driver on picking us up said, ‘“Marhaban” (welcome) to the Pope! Greet him for me!’” (L.Sister Claire Paule)
The King himself went to the Rabat airport to welcome Pope Francis.
“After the grandiose welcome the Pope received in the Emirates, I liked the great simplicity here with just two Moroccan children offering Pope Francis a bouquet of flowers. It was raining, a rain beneficial to the land which had dried up long ago. The Pope had brought the ‘Baraka’ (blessing)!” (L.Sister Elli Miriam)
The King and the Pope were both supposed to give a speech. The King spoke first, a strong call for openness:
“The three Abrahamic religions do not exist in order to tolerate each other by fatalistic resignation or haughty acceptance. They exist for opening up to each other and getting to know each other.”
He also spoke out against radicalism and extremism:
“Radicalisms, whether religious or not, are based on the lack of knowledge of the other, ignorance of the other, ignorance in general. ‘Co-knowledge’ is a negation of all forms of radicalism. And it is co-knowledge that will enable us to meet the challenges of our tormented present times.” “To deal with radicalism, the answer is neither military nor budgetary; the answer has only one name: ‘education.’ My plea for education is an indictment against ignorance. It is binary conceptions and ignorance that threaten our civilization, never religion.” “What all terrorists have in common is not religion but precisely ignorance of religion.” “Spirituality is not an end in itself. Our faith is translated into concrete actions. It teaches us to love our neighbors. It teaches us to help them.”
What a beautiful surprise to hear him say
“Because God is love.”
“With that said, Your Holiness, we deliver a common word between us and you… a common message, a message that Muslims, Christians, and Jews address to the whole of humanity.”
Then it was Pope Francis’ speech, also a strong call for openness and against fear:
“To help us overcome together the tensions and misunderstandings and the masks and stereotypes that always lead to fear and opposition, it is indeed essential to oppose fanaticism and fundamentalism with the solidarity of all believers.” “Freedom of conscience and religious freedom are inseparably linked to human dignity. These are not limited to freedom of worship alone but must allow everyone to live according to their own religious belief. In this spirit, we must always move from simple tolerance to respect and esteem for others. Thus understood, the building of bridges between people, from the point of view of interreligious dialogue, is called to be lived under the sign of conviviality, friendship, and even more so of brotherhood and sisterhood.”
It can be said that Pope Francis’ discourse was a vibrant appeal to the solidarity of all believers, to freedom of conscience, and also to the rights of migrants.
“This was an event that was not a little manifestation of a minority Church turned in on itself, but an event lived by both the Church and the Moroccan people together. And the words and gestures of the King and of Pope Francis echoed this and were a confirmation of what we are trying to live.” (The little sisters of Casa)
And then, during his meeting with the King and the royal family at the Palace, the Pope and the King surprised us by together signing a common appeal for Jerusalem. This appeal was aimed at preserving and promoting the specifically multicultural character, spiritual dimension and particular identity of the Holy City.

Then in the late afternoon, the King and Pope Francis went to the “Mohammed VI Institute,” a formation centre for imams and preachers (both male and female), that teaches a moderate Islam, far from all fundamentalism.

The floor was first given to the Minister of Islamic Affairs, then to two students: a Nigerian and a French citizen of Moroccan origin. Both wanted to have this formation in order to deepen their faith and know how to share it in the face of the extremism and terrorism that disfigures religion.

Then there was a big surprise: the curtain opened and an extraordinary experience was offered by the Moroccan Philharmonic Orchestra under the title “Religions in Unison.” A young muezzin from Casablanca sang the call to prayer, a singer of Moroccan Jewish origin sang the Jewish prayer “Adonai” in Hebrew, and then the daughter of the conductor of French origin sang the “Ave Maria.” Their voices intertwined and towards the end they were all holding hands.

It was a very moving moment. Music expresses our deepest desires better than many words can. We saw the Pope and King applauding at length and then speaking with great kindness to those who had sung. This musical moment was daring and quickly evoked many reactions: what moved some people shocked others! That was to be expected.

Places being very limited, we were unable to obtain the necessary badges to be at the Institute. So we were at home in Rabat, 10 little sisters with our friend Sanae, following this event via internet. Spontaneously we too held hands, Sanae telling us, "Let us always stay united like that!”

After this visit Pope Francis went to meet migrants at the Morocco Caritas Center. Lsr Mercy Mbugua who works at Caritas was present. The others followed the encounter via internet. The Pope’s speech was addressed not so much to migrants as to the whole world: a huge appeal to respect the rights and dignity of migrants.

The 2nd day of the visit was dedicated more to the Christian community. In the morning Pope Francis paid a visit to a rural social center for which the Daughters of Charity in Temara are responsible. Then he went to the Cathedral of Rabat for a meeting with priests, religious, and consecrated persons of Morocco. Pope and Br JeanPope and Br Jean

At the beginning there was a very moving moment when Pope Francis spontaneously stood up to greet Fr Jean Pierre Schumacher, Tibhirine’s last survivor, and kissed his hand. The Pope clearly perceived our reality as a minority church:
“What matters is not the number, but the testimony. Jesus did not choose us and send us to become the most numerous, he called us for a mission. He placed us in society like a small quantity of leaven: the leaven of the beatitudes and of fraternal love in which, as Christians, we can all find ourselves involved in the work of making his kingdom present.”
He warned us against any proselytism:
"The paths of mission do not pass through proselytism! Please, they don't go through proselytizing! Let us remember Benedict XVI: '’The Church does not grow by proselytism, but by attraction, by witness.’ No, they do not happen through proselytism, which always leads to a dead end, but through our way of being with Jesus and with others.”
“This is exactly what the Fraternity invites us to live. So Pope Francis’ words were for me a very strong encouragement to live this here in Morocco.” (L.Sister Elli Miriam)
“I loved his simplicity and I could sense his big loving heart, respectful of each and every person, and his inner vitality. He has a clear, direct, unambiguous way of speaking, does not hesitate to question and challenge, and puts us back at the heart of our mission. He lives what he says. I was struck by his concern for the poorest. You can feel that he holds them in his heart. His coming has done me good and I receive it as an invitation to return unceasingly to the Love of Jesus. He brings us back to the essentials of our mission. He had some strong words. “To be a Christian is an encounter, an encounter with Jesus Christ. We are Christians because we have been encountered and loved.” We are to pass from simple tolerance of others to respect and esteem of others. He invited us to build bridges that respect our differences and to be tireless pilgrims of hope. May your charity be a path of communion and dialogue, a dialogue that becomes prayer and that we can carry out every day through a humble and discreet presence.” (L.Sister Anne Yvette)
“I felt the joy of being a ‘little church’ buried like leaven in the dough, invited to the encounter, to the dialogue of life, and invited to carry all the people ‘confided’ to us in prayer. It had the good taste of the Gospel. Karen, pastor in charge of the Evangelical Church in Morocco, told us how delighted she was to hear from the mouth of the Pope that ‘what we have always believed and sought to live is the very way of the Gospel. What confirmation!’” (L.Sister Lucile)
And last of all we went to the “Prince Moulay Abdellah” Stadium for the Mass. There were tickets for 10,000 people, mostly Christian (living in Morocco, plus many from other countries) and also some Moroccans.
“I had not imagined that a stadium could be transformed into a beautiful place of prayer with rather simple Moroccan style decorations (and beautiful carpets under our feet). What a festive and joyful atmosphere in this stadium, especially before Mass when the 500 sub-Saharan choristers from our different parishes delighted us with their magnificent voices and songs from their countries! At the arrival of the Pope the style changed abruptly (requested by the Vatican) and became calmer!” (L.Sister Elli Miriam)
The gospel of the day was the gospel of the prodigal son and Pope Francis gave a very profound catechesis on mercy which certainly must have touched the Muslims present very much. After the visit… In the April 3rd general audience in Rome, Pope Francis expressed the following to the King and the Moroccan authorities:
“…my gratitude for their warm welcome and all their collaboration, especially to the King who was so brotherly, so friendly, so close. I especially thank the Lord who allowed me to take a further step on the path of dialogue and encounter with our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Then he spoke about the question of the meaning of different religions:
“But what God wants is fraternity between us and especially – and this was the reason for this trip – with our Muslim brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Abraham like us. We must not be frightened by differences. God has allowed these differences. We must be frightened rather if we do not work together in a brotherly and sisterly way so that we can journey together in life.”
One of the reactions in the Moroccan press, in the editorial of the “The Economist” newspaper of April 1, 2019, read as follows:
“The overwhelming feeling of the majority is one of approval, of pleasant surprise, and of pride. In the line of good surprise, there is something entirely new: there is a before and after to this visit. It is this discovery of a new ability - that of Muslims and Christians to carry together the messages of humanity and justice.”
'I liked the questions of my co-workers just before I left for Rabat and just after a nice exchange on forgiveness. They asked me, “But deep down, what is the foundation of religion for you?” “Why, it’s love!” “But for us, too, that’s the most important thing.” And also Azzelarab telling me, “You know, deep down, we’re all just thirsty for fraternity and to be able to live as brothers and sisters with our differences.” (L.Sister Lucile)
I liked Pope Francis’ message. Of course fraternity is possible between Christians and Muslims and for me religion has never been an obstacle. This visit was a very good thing. It is going to bring religions and people closer together. It will help people to see different religions. I think it will help for peace between religions.” (Kawtar to Hay Moulay Rachid Casablanca)
After having experienced all this, now comes the time to take up all these words again, share together what they are saying to us, live accordingly, and share it around us.