Before travelling to Morocco for March 30 – 31, Pope Francis addressed a video message to Moroccans on March 28, in which he said, “I am following in the footsteps of my saintly predecessor John Paul II, as a pilgrim of peace and fraternity, in a world that needs them so much—” and to affirm, in line with the interreligious dialogue promoted by Vatican II, that “both Christians and Muslims believe in a creative and merciful God,” concluding that this trip will be “a precious opportunity to visit the Christian community in Morocco and to encourage its journey.” According to the statistics published by the Holy See on March 28, its Christian community is composed of 4 bishops, 46 priests and 23,000 faithful.
Francis also announced that he would meet with migrants, who constitute and “appeal to build together a world with more justice and more solidarity.” According to the 2018 edition of the report on religious liberty in the world published by Aid to the Church in Need, over 99% of the Moroccan population is Muslim. Less than 1% are of another religion, including Jews.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, explained on March 29 that the first goal of the sovereign pontiff on this journey “is very dear to him, that of the ‘culture of encounter.’ The second aligns with the theme of his trip, ‘servants of hope:’”It seems to me that the pope truly wants to give us great hope, in other words, it is possible to walk on the path of mutual encounter. This is the significance of these successive trips to countries not of Catholic tradition.” The common goal of these trips to Muslim territory would be, according to Cardinal Parolin, “the concept of fraternity, as for example in the document the Holy Father signed in Abu Dhabi.” Recalling “the fact that we are creatures and children of the same Father and that we must recognize each other as brothers,” the cardinal emphasized that “fraternity is the scarlet thread that ties together all these trips.”—See the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X’s statement on the Abu Dhabi document.
Meetings with the Population as Well as the Civil and Diplomatic Authorities
Shortly after his arrival early in the afternoon, the sovereign pontiff addressed the Moroccan people, the authorities, the representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps assembled on the esplanade of Hassan Tower in Rabat. Advocating a joining of forces to build a world with more solidarity, the Holy Father spoke again of the urgent need to develop and tirelessly promote a “culture of dialogue,” indispensable to the opposition of fanaticism and fundamentalism by the solidarity of all believers, he specified.
This authentic dialogue must also take into account “the world in which we live, our common home,” the pope added, calling for an “ecological conversion” for integral human development. “It is together in a patient and prudent, frank and sincere dialogue, that we can hope to find adequate solutions to reverse the trend of global warming and to succeed in eradicating poverty.”
The sovereign pontiff also spoke of the migrant crisis and the UN Global Compact for Migration, adopted by the UN General Assembly in Marrakech on December 19, 2018. “I hope that Morocco, who with great openness and generous hospitality welcomed this conference, will continue to be, within the international community, an example of humanity of migrants and refugees, so that they may be here, as elsewhere, welcomed with humanity and protected, so that their situation may be improved and they can be integrated with dignity.”
Common Appeal for Jerusalem and its Vocation of Peace
The pope and King Mohammed VI held a private interview in Rabat, after which a common appeal for Jerusalem was made public on March 30, 2019. “Recognizing the unique and sacred character of Jerusalem, and concerned for its spiritual significance and its particular vocation as the City of Peace,” they believe it is “important to preserve the Holy City of Jerusalem. With Al Quds Acharif as the common heritage of humanity and, above all for the faithful of the three monotheistic religions as a place of encounter and a symbol of peaceful coexistence, where mutual respect and dialogue can flourish.”
They expressed the hope “that in the Holy City full freedom of access be guaranteed to the faithful of the three monotheistic religions along with the rights of each religion to worship in its own way, so that from Jerusalem. Al Quds Acharif prayer to God, the Creator of all, may rise up from their faithful for a future of peace and fraternity on earth.”
The Holy Father then visited the Mohammed VI institute where imams are trained as well as preachers, both male and female, before ending the day with the migrants welcomed by the diocesan Caritas of Rabat.
Meeting With the Migrants
At the end of the day, Francis visited a center run by Caritas of the diocese of Rabat, which had welcomed numerous migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. The pope spoke of the meaning he sees in the message, “Welcome, protect, promote, integrate.” “When we consider the current situation, to welcome means above all to give migrants and refugees greater opportunities for safe and legal entry into their country of destination.” The expansion of regular migratory channels is indeed one of the chief goals of the World Pact. To protect means to maintain the defense “of the rights and dignity of migrants as well as refugees, independently of their migrant status,” beginning with protection. Promotion means ensuring that everyone, migrants and natives alike, are able to find a safe means for integral fulfilment. Integrate means to engage in a process that values both the cultural heritage of the welcoming community and that of the migrants, thus building an intercultural and open society. On this topic, see article "The Pope and the Migrants" in Nouvelles de Chretiente no. 169 (January-February 2018)
Meeting with Priests, Religious, and the Members of the Ecumenical Council of Churches
On Sunday, March 31, in the cathedral of Rabat, which was entirely repainted for the day, the pope met with priests and religious as well as the members of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, which includes four religious communities present in Morocco (Anglicans, Evangelicals, Greek Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox). Also present were several bishops from the North African Bishops’ Conference. “Our mission as baptized persons, as priests, as consecrated persons, is not determined by numbers in particular but by the way we live as disciples of Jesus.
In other words, the paths of the mission do not include proselytism. If you please, they do not include proselytism! Let us remember Benedict XVI: “The Church does not grow through proselytism, but through attraction, through witness,” he declared.
Quoting Paul VI in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam: “The Church must enter into dialogue with the world in which it lives. It has something to say, a message to give, a communication to make,” Francis denied he was yielding to a fashion or a strategy. It is because “as disciples of Jesus Christ we are called, from the day of our baptism, to be part of this dialogue of salvation and friendship, of which we are the first beneficiaries.” This dialogue, according to the sovereign pontiff, becomes a prayer that we can make every day in the name “of the "human fraternity" that includes all men, unites them and makes them equal (Document on Human Fraternity, Abu Dhabi, February 4, 2019). A prayer that echoes the life of our neighbour; a prayer of intercession that is capable of saying to the Father: May your kingdom come.” —And like at Assisi, it is a sophisticated pretense of not praying together, but being together while praying.
Sunday Mass at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat
To conclude his trip, the pope celebrated Mass at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat, before over 10,000 people. Dominating the altar was a reproduction of the cross of the monastery of Tibhirine.
Francis focused in his sermon on the parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:1-3; 11-32), especially on the figure of the eldest son who protests against his father for the festive welcome intended for his brother, returning after a dissolute life. The father, the sovereign pontiff pointed out, tells his eldest son, “All I have is thine,” (Lk. 15:31). “And he was not speaking only of material goods but of the fact of sharing also in his own love and his own compassion. Let us not fall into the temptation of reducing our belonging as sons to a matter of laws and interdictions, duties and conformities. Our belonging and our mission are not born of voluntarism, legalism, relativism or fundamentalism, but of believing persons who beg every day, with humility and constancy: may your Kingdom come.”
For Francis, it is in raising the eyes to Heaven and in saying the Our Father that we are “taking the risk to live as brothers.” The father in the parable encourages his eldest to participate in his joy, his love, his compassion, “the greatest inheritance and greatest riches of Christianity.” —This ecumenical-interreligious exegesis of the parable of the prodigal son is a recurrent theme in Francis’ preaching.
In response to the questions of journalists on the papal flight back from Morocco, Francis spoke of dialogue with the Moslems and the Jerusalem appeal as a step forward made by brothers. On the topic of migrants, he appealed to the generosity of Europe.
On relations with Islam, the pope stated that the dialogue must be tirelessly pursued, for, he recognized, there will certainly be obstacles along the way. “In each religion, there is always a fundamentalist group that does not want to move forward and who lives with bitter memories, past struggles and who seeks war above all and spreads fear. On the contrary, those who build bridges can move forward. The bridge is there for human communication.”
Judging This Trip (and Others)
On the occasion of this interreligious journey of the pope to Morocco, we can reference the statement of the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X on February 24, 2019. It was published after the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Coexistence was signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of the Mosque of Cairo on February 4, 2019 (DICI no. 382, March 2019):
“The Word of God, the only Son of the Father, uncreated eternal wisdom took flesh and became man; faced with this historical fact no one can remain indifferent: “He that is not with me is against me: and He that gathereth not with Me scattereth” (Mt. 12:30). By the fact of the Incarnation, Christ became the High Priest of the unique New Covenant and the teacher who proclaims the truth to us; He became the King of hearts and of societies and “the firstborn amongst many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Thus, true fraternity exists only in Jesus Christ and in Him alone: “For there is no other name under Heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
“It is a truth of the faith that Christ is King of all men and that He wants to unite them in His Church, His unique Bride, His only Mystical Body. The kingdom that He establishes is a reign of truth and grace, of holiness, justice, and charity, and consequently peaceful. There can be no true peace apart from Our Lord. It is therefore impossible to find peace outside the reign of Christ and of the religion that He founded. To forget this truth is to build on sand, and Christ Himself warns us that such an undertaking is doomed to fail (cf. Mt. 7:26-27).”
Let us add that at the Angelus following his trip to Morocco, the pope, going off-script, declared, “Why are there so many religions, and how are there so many religions? Why did God authorize so many religions? God wanted to permit this: scholastic theologians have spoken of the permissive will of God. He wanted to permit this reality.”
These parenthetical remarks, made using theological vocabulary, were intended to answer the objection made to the Document on Human Fraternity in which it was specifically declared that “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race, and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.” The statement by the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X which was published in response condemns these words.
Explaining them with the “permissive will” of God is inadequate. Indeed, this term is used by theologians to speak of God’s relation with evil, for God never wills evil; He only wills good. So how are we to explain the existence of evil? Precisely because God wills to permit it, for a greater good. Therefore, to say that these religions are part of the permissive will of God is to say that they are evil in themselves. Very good—but is this not deceitful towards to the Grand Imam, and anyone else aware of what was said?
Moreover, can one say that the diversity of colour, of sex, of race and of language is an evil permitted by God for a greater good? No indeed. It must be concluded therefore either that the diversity of religions is a good just as these human traits are, or that any explanation by means of God’s permissive will is merely a ploy.