Seeking visibility and recognition of their rights, Moroccan Christians prepare to capitalize on Pope’s Francis visit to raise concerns on religious freedom in Morocco.
Rabat – Having kept a low profile until now, a number of Moroccan Christian associations want to use the much-publicized pope Francis visit to demand the institutionalization of their religious rights.
The groups’ spokespersons say they want to “be both Moroccan and Christian.”
A “tiny minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim country,” Reuters reported on March 22, Moroccan Christian converts see in the pope’s visit an opportunity to convey their demands in the country’s highest places.
Jawad El Hamidy, the head of the Moroccan Association for Religious Rights and Freedoms, told Reuters that while “foreign Christians” are visible and free to exercise their religious rights, Moroccan converts are barred from fully embracing their religion.
“We want laws that protect religious minorities in the country on an equal footing. We will seize the pope’s visit to put more pressure on the state to protect religious freedoms,” he said.
Hamidy’s association has reportedly addressed the Vatican a letter to denounce Morocco’s alleged discrimination of its Christians. The group is said to be planning to organize sit-ins on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit.
The Coordination of Moroccan Christians, another group raising concerns over Morocco’s treatment of Christian converts, said they wanted to take advantage of the pope’s visit to “to launch a sincere dialogue on religious freedom for Moroccan citizens.”
Morocco as an example of religious tolerance
But Moroccan authorities have dismissed the groups’ claims, arguing that Morocco does not violate religious freedoms.
“There is no persecution in Morocco and there is no discrimination on the basis of faith,” Reuters quoted government spokesperson Mustapha El Khalfi as saying.
Earlier this week, Moroccan Archives in collaboration with the Council of Moroccans Residing Abroad (CCME) organized an exhibition to showcase Morocco’s history of religious tolerance and peaceful cohabitation between Moroccan Muslims and Christians.
Under the theme “Christian Presence in Morocco: Living Together,” the exhibition aimed at “throwing a retrospective look on some unknown episodes of a shared history filled with strong values of forbearance, peace, and living together,” according to organizers.
But beneath that image of Morocco as a bulwark of religious tolerance and enlightened inter-religious values, the country’s Christian groups claim that Moroccan laws are skewed in favor of Moroccan Muslims.
“When I went to a church to declare my faith, I was told that I was prohibited to do so by Moroccan law,” a 40-year old Moroccan was quoted by Reuters as saying.
During his two-day visit on March 30-31, Pope Francis will meet with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI as well as the country’s growing migrant and Christian communities.
The pope’s program in Morocco put a particular emphasis on the celebration of a culture of diversity and religious tolerance.