Pope Francis met on Sunday with priests, consecrated men and women and the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Rabat's Cathedral of Saint Peter.
Rabat – Pope Francis arrived at the Cathedral of Rabat on the morning of Sunday, March 31, to cries of “bienvenidos,” “bienvenue,” and “MarHaba” from an elated and international group of priests, church leaders, and consecrated religious people of many denominations.
Nuns of the order of Mother Teresa joined Franciscan monks and leaders of Orthodox churches in North Africa. Although the pews were full, the cathedral gathering felt intimate compared to the afternoon mass, where nearly 10,000 worshipers joined the pope at a stadium just outside Rabat.
At the beginning of the meeting, Pope Francis warmly greeted Father Jean-Pierre Schumacher, the last surviving monk of Tibhirine, who is currently living in the Convent of Our Lady of the Atlas in Midelt.
Speaking at the cathedral, Pope Francis welcomed the fact that Christians are free to practice their religion in Morocco which fosters the strengthening of dialogue, cooperation and friendship between Muslims and Christians.
Pope Francis reiterated his call for interfaith dialogue, a message he delivered a day earlier, speaking with King Mohammed VI. The pope made it clear that such dialogue is not “a strategy for increasing [the church’s] membership.”
“Christians are a minority in this country. Yet, to my mind, this is not a problem.”
The pope said that proselytizing “leads always to a cul-de-sac,” and that it is Christians’ spiritual and social work that is paramount.
“Jesus did not choose us and send us forth to become more numerous! He called us to a mission.” That mission, he said, is not determined by the “number or size of spaces that we occupy, but rather by our capacity to generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion.”
The pope explained that “charity, especially towards the vulnerable,” is the best means to build a culture of dialogue. “Dialogue, then, becomes prayer,” he added.
Miguel Angel, a Franciscan monk living in the northern Moroccan city of El Hoceima, told Morocco World News that his monastery runs a center caring for mentally ill people, all of whom are Moroccan Muslims. He practices his religion by helping people in need, he said. “We came to help our brothers. We are interested in the people, not their religion. The person, no matter what they believe, is a child of God.”
Seated on the dais, the Pope was flanked on either side by Morocco’s two archbishops, Father Cristóbal Lopez Romero of Rabat and Father Santiago Agrelo Martinez of Tangier.
“I would like all Christians and Muslims around the world to know that we are brothers and not rivals, and we are working together in the land of Morocco to build a world of justice and peace,” Archbishop of Tangier, Santiago Agrelo Martínez, told reporters.
Most of those in the cathedral were elders, reflecting the aging population of the Catholics in Europe. But at the end of the ceremony, four children ran up to greet the pope on stage, to laughter and cheers from the audience.
Most of Morocco’s current Christians are young immigrants from sub-Saharan African countries. Omar, a young Protestant from Niger studying in Rabat, saw the pope’s visit as helping Morocco’s Christian minority. “It shows us that there is really a freedom of worship, for us, being foreigners in this country.”