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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Pope Visits Morocco to Boost Dialogue, Meet Migrants


7Dnews London

Sat, 30 Mar 2019 10:09 GMT

Head of the Catholic church, Pope Francis, arrives in Morocco on Saturday, March 30th, for a visit which will see him meet Muslim leaders and migrants, ahead of a mass with the country's minority Catholic community, as reported by AFP.

The spiritual leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics was invited by King Mohammed VI, as part of the "development of interreligious dialogue," according to Moroccan authorities. 

Improving relations with other religions has been a priority for the Argentine pontiff, whose papacy has been marred by a wave of child sex abuse allegations against clergy.

The Moroccan capital, Rabat, has stepped up security ahead of his arrival. Buildings have been repainted, streets decorated and lawns manicured ahead of the first papal visit to Morocco since John Paul II in 1985.

The pope is due to be welcomed at the airport by the king, and presented with dates and almond milk. Then the pontiff will step into his Popemobile, and the monarch into a limousine. 

They will drive to a welcome ceremony at a mosque and a mausoleum, attended by 25,000 and beamed onto giant screens, before the king hosts pope Francis at the royal palace.

The monarch is known as the "commander of the faithful" in Morocco, where 99 % of the population is Muslim. 

The pontiff will also visit an institute where around 1,300 students are studying to become imams and preachers, teaching moderate Islam, and backed by the king.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said "it's a very significant event, the first time that a pope is welcomed to an institute for the training of imams."

During the visit, pope Francis is due to hear from two students, one African and one European, as well as a statement by Morocco's ministry of Islamic affairs. A concert drawing inspiration from Islam, Christianity and Judaism is also on the agenda. 

Last month the pope visited the United Arab Emirates, where he met with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's prestigious seat of learning. 

The two signed a document on "human fraternity for world peace," which among other things called for "freedom of belief" and "full citizenship" rights for minorities.

In Morocco, where Islam is the state religion, authorities are keen to stress the country's religious tolerance which allows Christians and Jews to worship freely.

Around 30,000 to 35,000 Catholics live in Morocco, many of them from sub-Saharan Africa. 

The pope is due to finish his Saturday March 30th schedule by meeting migrants at a centre run by Catholic humanitarian organisation, Caritas. 

The charity runs day centres for migrants who are trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean, as well as supporting their access to services.

The pope has throughout his papacy highlighted the plight of migrants and refugees, calling on Catholics as well as politicians to show solidarity with those in need.

On Sunday, March 31st, the pope will celebrate mass at a Rabat stadium with an estimated 10,000 people attending.