‘Christians without joy choose to live outside the Father’s house’

‘Christians without joy choose to live outside the Father’s house’ Pope Francis shakes hands with King Mohammed VI at the Hassan Tower esplanade in Rabat, Morocco, Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Colm Fitzpatrick reports on the Pope’s visit to Morocco


Greeted by King Mohammed VI, a steady rain, ululating women and cheering crowds, Pope Francis arrived in Rabat on March 30 for a 28-hour visit to Morocco.

In a sign of great honour, the king rode in his limousine from the airport alongside Pope Francis riding in the popemobile. They went directly to the Hassan Tower, a 12th-Century minaret that is a symbol of the city.

With thousands of people gathered on the esplanade in front of the tower, which sits where the Bouregreg Rivers meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Pope and the king spoke of peace, tolerance, respect and religious freedom in a country where 99% of the people are Muslim, but tens of thousands of Christian students and migrants live temporarily.

The king, who has the constitutionally assigned role of “commander of the faithful”, told Pope Francis that the role includes being “guarantor of the free practice of religion” for Muslims, Christians and Jews.

“The three Abrahamic religions were not created to be tolerant of one another out of some unavoidable fate or out of courtesy to one another,” King Mohammed said. “The reason they exist is to open up to one another and to know one another, so as to do one another good.”


The king, who has devoted energy and resources to training imams and other leaders and to fighting fundamentalist forms of Islam, told the Pope: “What all terrorists have in common is not religion, but rather ignorance of religion.”

“Religion is light; religion is knowledge; religion is wisdom,” he said. “And because religion is peace, it calls for diverting the energy spent on weapons” to other, “loftier pursuits”, he said.

Pope Francis described his visit as another occasion to promote interreligious dialogue as part of the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the meeting of St Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in Egypt.

The meeting of the saint and sultan during the Crusades, he said, “shows that the courage to encounter one another and extend a hand of friendship is a pathway of peace and harmony for humanity, whereas extremism and hatred cause division and destruction”.

Too often, the Pope said, Christians’ lack of knowledge of and friendship with Muslims and Muslims’ lack of knowledge of and friendship with Christians has been “exploited as a cause for conflict and division”.

Dialogue, he said, is the only sure way “to halt the misuse of religion to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism and the invocation of the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression”.

Religion is not just about an individual’s relationship with God and eventual hope of heaven, he said. All religions teach the sacredness of human life and anyone who claims faith in God must demonstrate that through the highest level of respect for the life and dignity of others.

Respect for life and for all God’s gifts also implies respect for creation and caring for the poor and for migrants, the Pope said. Christians and Muslims can and should work together to protect the planet and assist those in need.

Pope Francis also urged further steps in Muslim-majority countries to progress beyond seeing Christians and Jews – “people of the book” – as minorities to protect and instead recognise them as full citizens with equal rights and obligations.


After the arrival ceremony, Francis and King Mohammed VI met with Muslim men and women studying to be prayer leaders and preachers, in the school the king founded to counter violent strains of Islam by training imams and ‘murshid’, men and women preachers and spiritual guides.

And the Pope ended his day at the Rabat Caritas center for migrants, a facility providing special care to women, unaccompanied minors and others among the most vulnerable of the estimated 80,000 migrants currently in Morocco.

Neither the Pope nor the king gave a speech at the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines and Morchidates. Instead they listened.

Aboubakr Hmaidouch, a 25-year-old student born in France, said the terrorist attacks there inspired him to study Islam more seriously. At the institute, he said, “the training is inspired by a doctrine that takes into account practical life and culture, and that accepts diversity; a dogma based on moderation and reaching a middle ground, but also on a spirituality that unites you to God and his creatures through the bond of love”.

Hindu Usman, a woman from Nigeria, told the Pope and king that terrorism and anti-Christian violence in her country is fuelled by a faith “founded on passion, rather than knowledge,” but that thanks to her education in Rabat, “I will be able to argue and convince (people) that religion is for peace and goodness, that a believer is only accountable before God (and) that women are equal with men in their rights”.

At the Caritas centre, the Pope continued the reflection he began earlier in the day as the king formally welcomed him to Rabat.

The Pope had described Morocco as a “bridge between Africa and Europe”, and most of the 80 migrants the Pope met at the Caritas centre had set off from their homes hoping to cross that bridge and make a new life in Europe.

Pope Francis had called for “a change of attitude toward migrants, one that sees them as persons, not numbers, and acknowledges their rights and dignity in daily life and in political decisions”.

“The issue of migration will never be resolved by raising barriers, fomenting fear of others or denying assistance to those who legitimately aspire to a better life for themselves and their families,” the Pope had said.


Meeting the migrants, he insisted that “no one can be indifferent to this painful situation” of so many millions of migrants around the world. It is “a wound that cries out to heaven”, he said.

Abena Banyomo Jackson, a migrant from Cameroon, told the Pope he left his home in 2013 hoping to get to Europe to find work and help his family. “After crossing Nigeria, Niger and Algeria, I arrived illegally in Morocco.”

He tried to reach Spain, but was unsuccessful, so he spent time in the informal migrant settlements in the forests and in the cities, until he met a priest. “He welcomed me into his home, the Church, and gave me a new breath,” and a job, helping other migrants.

Finally, in 2016, he received a Moroccan residency permit thanks to a program by the king to regularise the migrants present in the country.

The way a country treats migrants and refugees says something about what its people think is “the value of each human life”, the Pope said.

“Every human being has the right to life,” he said. “Every person has the right to dream and to find his or her rightful place in our common home. Every person has a right to a future.”

Economic indicators alone cannot measure a nation’s progress, he said.

“It depends above all on our openness to being touched and moved by those who knock at our door. Their faces shatter and debunk all those false idols that can take over and enslave our lives; idols that promise an illusory and momentary happiness blind to the lives and sufferings of others,” he said. “How arid and inhospitable a city becomes, once it loses the capacity for compassion,” it becomes “a heartless society – a barren mother”.

Pope Francis repeated his frequent appeal to the global community to do more to assist poor countries so people do not feel forced to migrate and to expand the pathways that would allow migrants and refugees to move to a new country legally and safely.

Until that happens, he said, “the emergency of irregular migration has to be met with justice, solidarity and mercy,” adding that “forms of collective expulsion, which do not allow for the suitable treatment of individual cases, are unacceptable.”

Governments, churches and other institutions also must do more to help newcomers and long-time residents get to know each other and learn about each other’s cultures. When people know nothing of the other, he said, it is natural to “raise barriers to defend ourselves”, but people of good will should fight the temptation to be “conditioned by fear and ignorance”.


The following day, at the Mass in an arena at Rabat’s Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, the Pope honoured the way that Catholics, although much less than 1% of the population, reach out to help their Muslim brothers and sisters and the thousands of migrants who pass through, hoping to reach Europe.

“I encourage you to continue to let the culture of mercy grow, a culture in which no one looks at others with indifference, or averts his eyes in the face of their suffering,” he said.

The languages used at the Mass reflected the fact that the Catholic community in Morocco is made up almost entirely of foreigners. The readings were in Spanish, Arabic and French; English, Portuguese and Italian were added for the prayers of the faithful.

More than a dozen Muslim leaders attended the Mass in a sign of friendship and were given seats near the front of the arena.

As is his custom, the Pope’s homily at the Mass focused almost entirely on the day’s Gospel reading, which was the story of the prodigal son.

However, Pope Francis put special attention on the elder son in the story, the one who never left home or squandered his inheritance. While the merciful father rejoiced when his younger son returned home, the older son grew angry and refused to join the celebration.

“He prefers isolation to encounter, bitterness to rejoicing,” the Pope said. “Not only is he unable to understand or forgive his brother, he cannot accept a father capable of forgiving, willing to wait patiently, to trust and to keep looking, lest anyone be left out – in a word, a father capable of compassion.”

While sad, the elder son’s attitude is not unthinkable or unusual, the Pope said. It is the same “tension we experience in our societies and in our communities, and even in our own hearts” when people ask: “Who has the right to stay among us, to take a place at our tables and in our meetings, in our activities and concerns, in our squares and our cities?”

When faced with situations that can bring confrontation, division and strife, he said, “often we are tempted to believe that hatred and revenge are legitimate ways of ensuring quick and effective justice”.

But experience, not to mention Faith, “tells us that hatred, division and revenge succeed only in killing our peoples’ soul, poisoning our children’s hopes, and destroying and sweeping away everything we cherish”, the Pope said.


The key to acting as a Christian, he said, is to look at situations from the perspective of the father, who loves both his sons and is a representation of God, who created all people to be brothers and sisters.

“Let us not fall into the temptation of reducing the fact that we are his children to a question of rules and regulations, duties and observances,” Pope Francis told the Catholics of Morocco.

Noting that the Gospel story does not say whether, in the end, the elder son reconciled with his brother and joined the party, the pope said each Christian is called to write his or her ending to the story.

“We can complete it by the way we live, the way we regard others and how we treat our neighbour,” he said. “The Christian knows that in the Father’s house there are many rooms: the only ones who remain outside are those who choose not to share in his joy.”