Pope to hold mass for Morocco's Catholics on Sunday

Pope to hold mass for Morocco's Catholic minority on Sunday
3 min read
31 March, 2019
Pope Francis was expected to hold mass on Sunday for nearly 10,000 members of Morocco's Catholic minority, mostly Sub-Saharan Africans.
Sub-Saharan Africans make up a large part of the country's 30,000-strong Catholic community [Getty]

Pope Francis will hold mass on Sunday for nearly 10,000 members of Morocco's Catholic minority, on the second and last day of a visit to the kingdom.

The pope will start the day at a social centre near the capital Rabat, before meeting religious leaders at the cathedral.

The highlight for the Catholic community in Morocco will be the mass held at a city stadium, marking The Argentine pontiff’s two-day visit.

Thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday to welcome Francis’ visit, the first one since John Paul II’s in 1985.

Sub-Saharan Africans make up a large part of the country's 30,000-strong Catholic community in the North African country, where 99 percent of the population is believed to be Muslim.

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". However, Christians constitute a tiny minority.

During his welcome ceremony speech, Francis defended "freedom of conscience" and "religious freedom". He also denounced "indifference and silence" towards the suffering of migrants, who should be treated "as people, not numbers".

Last year, Morocco became the main departure point for sub-Saharan African migrants attempting to reach Europe through Spain, after Italy closed its borders to migrants leaving from Libya.

The increasing numbers of migrants have put pressures on Morocco. Since the start of the year, nearly 47,500 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea, with hundreds dying or going missing on the perilous journey.

Morocco’s government says it stopped 68,000 illegal migration attempts last year, and the EU agreed over the summer to give Morocco $275 million to help it deal with the flow of migrants.

Rights groups accuse Morocco of "brutal arrest campaigns" and "forced displacement" of migrants to the country's southern border. These allegations are rejected, however, by Morocco who says it has a "humanistic" approach to migration.

Francis concluded his Saturday schedule at Caritas charity centre, a charity that offers support to migrants. Children donned colourful hats to greet the pope in the centre.

Immigrants’ fate has been a focal point in the pontiff’s papacy. Francis criticised "collective expulsions" and said regularising migrants’ should be encouraged.

Immigration was not the only subject was discussed between Francis and Morocco King Mohammed VI, who describes himself as "commander of the faithful".

The two on Saturday also addressed the "sacred character of Jerusalem". In a joint statement, released by the Vatican, they said that the city should be a "symbol of peaceful coexistence" for Christians, Jews and Muslims.

"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 the royal palace in Rabat on Saturday.

The Moroccan king chairs a committee, created by Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, responsible for safeguarding and restoring Jerusalem's religious, cultural and architectural heritage.

Palestinians see east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as the capital of a future independent state, while Israel sees the entire city as its capital.

In May, the USA moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed holy city, following a declaration by President Donald Trump's administration in December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, turning his back on decades of US policy

The decision angered the Muslim world and was seen as setback for Palestinian aspirations for statehood and an obstacle to the peace process in the region.

Since then, other countries followed suit and said they would recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, including Romania and Honduras.  

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