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African Christian migrants attend a Church ceremony in Rabat ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Morocco African Christian migrants attend a Church ceremony in Rabat ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Morocco  

Pope in Morocco: From John Paul II to Francis

The people of Morocco are gearing up for Pope Francis' arrival in the capital city on Saturday 30 March. As Vatican News' Paul Samasumo awaits the Pope in Rabat, he gives us some context.

By Paul Samasumo

34 years, August 1985 Pope John Paul II visited Morocco at the invitation of King Hassan II. At the time Pope John Paul II was concerned about the status of the Church in Morocco and as well as relations with Muslims.

Fast forward to 30 and 31 March 2019, and you have Morocco’s capital city of Rabat, in a state of high expectation and some excitement the people here cannot wait to host Pope Francis. Pope Francis will arrive in Rabat for a two-day visit starting this Saturday.

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Pope Francis has been invited to visit Morocco by the King, Mohammed VI.

With this visit, the Pope continues his mission of promoting relations with Moslems. Increasingly, this is something that is resonating well with Moslem scholars, intellectuals and some Imams.

It is, therefore, no coincidence that one of the main highlights of this visit by Pope Francis will be to the Mohammed VI Institute. The Institute is named after the King of Morocco himself. Many of the students at the institute are from Africa, the Middle East and Europe. They come here for their studies in Islam. It is they who will, in turn, carry to their regions this moderate brand of Islam that Morocco is keen to promote.

In Morocco, Islam is the state religion but the constitution guarantees "to all the freedom to practise their faith." It is, nevertheless, an offence to proselytise.

But Pope Francis is also coming to Morocco as a pastor reaching out to encourage the tiny and diverse Catholic community of about 33 000 -mostly African students here for university studies, migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and also some Asian contract workers.

This morning on the street, I met three African students with Pope Francis t-shirts. From my limited French, I understood them to be saying they feel blessed that though a minority the Holy Father is coming to visit, bless and strengthen us.

29 March 2019, 16:24