By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

„Servant of hope” was the theme that Pope Francis chose for his two day pastoral visit to Morocco, which took place at the end of March. It was his third trip to an Islamic country; the first had been in 2017 to Egypt, followed by a historic trip to Abu Dhabi in February of this year where a ground breaking document “On Fraternity” was passed between the Pope and the Emir of the UAE.  Among the 35 Million Muslim believers the Catholics with approximately 23.000 believers represent a tiny minority aside the Jewish and other Christian religions. Similar to his trip in Abu Dhabi the Pope followed the historical model of the famous meeting that took place 800 years ago, at the height of the crusades, between Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) and  Sultan Al- Kalil Mohammed al Malik (1180-1238) in Egypt.

A highlight of the visit was a message which both the Moroccan King Hassan VI and Pope Francis sent to the world. It was an urgent appeal to regard “Jerusalem / Al-Quds the Holy City and a place of encounter” – a clear response to President Trump’s recent provocative decision to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem.  Emphasizing that the “unique and sacred character of Jerusalem/ Al-Quds Acharif”, should be recognized, the Pope and King Hassan of Morocco expressed their deep concern given the “spiritual significance” of the city of Jerusalem and its “special vocation as a city of peace, making the following appeal: “We consider it important to preserve the Holy City of Jerusalem/ Al-Quds Acharif as the common  patrimony of humanity and especially the followers of the three monotheistic religions as a place of encounter and as a symbol of peaceful existence, where mutual respect and dialogue can be cultivated. To this end, the specific multi- religious character, the spiritual dimension and the particular multi-cultural identity of Jerusalem/ Al-Quds Acharif must be protected and promoted. It is our hope, therefore, that in the Holy City, full freedom of access to the followers of the three monotheistic religions and their right to worship will be guaranteed, so that in Jerusalem/ Al-Quds Acharif they may raise their prayers to God, the Creator of all, for a future of peace and fraternity on the earth.” (Rabat March 30th 2019).

In an address to authorities from Civil Society and the Diplomatic Corps in Rabat, Pope Francis praised the “natural beauty” of the country which is “preserving the traces and ancient civilizations and bearing witness to a long and fascinating history.” The aim of his pastoral visit, he underlined, was to advance “interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding among the followers of our two religions. We commemorate – at a distance of 800 centuries – the historic meeting between Saint Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil,” the Pope said.  He qualified Morocco as a “natural bridge between Africa and Europe, “affirming the need for “cooperation in giving new impetus to the building of a world of greater solidarity, marked by honest, courageous and indispensable efforts to promote a dialogue respectful of the richness and distinctiveness of each people and every individual.” He made reference to the document on “Human Fraternity” (Abu Dhabi February 4th 2019) which had underlined the need “to foster the culture of dialogue and to adopt mutual cooperation as our code of conduct and reciprocal understanding as our method and standard.” He underlined that “fanaticism and extremism” should be countered by “solidarity on the part of all believers.”

Addressing of today’s migration crisis

Special attention was paid by the Pope to the present “migration” which makes it urgent to think about “concrete actions aimed at eliminating the causes that force many people to leave country and family behind, often only to find themselves marginalized and rejected.” He referred to the “Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration”, that took place in December 2018 in Marrakech, a conference which according to the Pope should serve as “point of reference for the entire international community.” What is needed right now, the Pope urged, is “a change of attitude towards migrants, one that sees them as persons, not number, and acknowledges their rights and dignity in daily life and in political decisions.” He underlined that Morocco was “an example of humanity for migrants and refugees within the international community,” by accepting them and giving them a better life and a dignified integration into society.

A recurring sentence in the Pope’s addresses was that “the issue of migration will never be resolved by raising barriers, fomenting fears of others or denying assistance to those who legitimately aspire to a better life for themselves and their families.” The consolidation of peace was only possible through the pursuit of “social justice, which is indispensable for correcting the economic imbalance and political unrest that have always had a major role in generating conflicts and threatening the whole of humanity.”

In a special meeting with migrants in the premises of the diocesan Caritas (Rabat) the Pope reiterated his concern and desire to discuss with the migrants. As he stated, “migration is a great and deep wound that continues to afflict our world at the beginning of this twenty first century. We do not want our response to be one of indifference and silence. This is all them more the case today, when we witness many millions of refugees and other forced migrants seeking international protection, to say nothing of the victims of human trafficking and the new forms of enslavement being perpetrated by criminal organizations.” He called upon all societies to find “global solutions for the migration crisis” and to respond at present to the contemporary movements of the migration with generosity, enthusiasm, wisdom and farsightedness.

We must be moved by those who knock at our doors

The faces of those who knock at our doors shatter the “fake idols that enslave our lives,” the Pope stated, “idols that promise an illusory and momentary happiness blind to the lives and sufferings of others. How arid and inhospitable a city becomes, once it loses the capacity for compassion! A heartless society.”  The fate of the migrants all over the world was at the “Centre of the Church’s heart” and he used four verbs in order to illustrate what should be done to deal with the migration challenges: “Accept”, “Protect”, “Promote” and “Integrate.”

This involves, according to the Pope, means that offer broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally, i.e. expanding regular migration channels, to avoid presenting new opportunities to those “merchants of human flesh” who exploit the dreams and needs of migrants. He called “forms of irregular expulsion” unacceptable. Instead special legalization strategies especially in case of families and minors should be encouraged.  “Protect” means that we must “Defend the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees, independent of their legal status,” which includes everyone’s right to medical, psychological and social assistance.” “Promote” means that every migrant can enjoy a safe environment in which they can develop their gifts. “Every migrant is a source of personal, cultural and professional enrichment in whatever place they find themselves … migrants should be encouraged to learn the local language an essential vehicle of intercultural communication, and helped in positive ways to develop a sense of responsibility towards the society, that accepts them, learning to respect individuals and social bond, laws and culture.”   To “Integrate” means engaging in a process that enhances both the cultural heritage of the welcoming community and that of migrants, thus building an open and intercultural society,” since “every person has a right to the future.”  In a meeting with priests, religious and consecrated persons and the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Cathedral of St Peter (Rabat), he called the Christians to be the yeast “wherever and with whomever we find ourselves, even if this appears to bring no tangible or immediate benefits.”

The parable of the lost son

Very moving was indeed the Pope’s homily which he gave during a Holy Mass in the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium (Rabat, March 31). It was a moving reflection about the gospel of (Luke 15:20) who tells famous parable about the “Lost son.” A father had two sons – both received a lot of money from him and one of the sons decided to leave the house and stay away for many years. He spent all the money, living in luxury and organizing parties, until one day he became so impoverished that he had to live at a farm sharing his life with the pigs and eating the pigs’ food.  He decided however in an act of repent to return home to his father and elder brother. The Pope’s reflection begins at the moment when the father sees from far away his son returning. He had a deep feeling of compassion, “ran to him and embraced him and kissed him”. (Lk 15: 20) As the Pope underlined “here the Gospel takes us to the heart of the parable, showing the father’s response at seeing the return of his son. Deeply moved he runs out to meet him before he can even reach home. A son long awaited. A father rejoicing to see him return.” However as great the joy of the father is, the other son whom the father invites to take part in the festivities, is deeply upset by the celebration being prepared. He didn’t acknowledge the return of his brother: “That son of yours” as he tells the father. “For him his brother was still lost, because he had already lost him at his heart.”

As the Pope states “at the threshold of that home, something of the mystery of our humanity appears. On the one hand, celebration for the son who was lost and is found; on the other,  a feeling of betrayal and indignation at the celebrations marking his return. On the one hand, the welcome given to the son wo had experience misery and pain, even to the point of yearning to eat the husks thrown to the swine; on the other, irritation and anger at the embrace given to the one who had proved himself so unworthy.

The Pope draws a parallel to the tensions we experience on our societies and in our communities and even in our own hearts A tension deep within us ever since the time of Cain and Abel: We are called to confront it and see it for what it is. For we too ask: “Who has the right to say among us, to take a place at our tables and in our meetings, in our activities and concerns, in our squares and in our meetings, in our activities and concerns, in our squares and our cities?” As the Pope emphasizes,  “At the threshold of that home, we see our own divisions and strife, the aggressiveness and conflicts that always lurk at the door of our high ideals, our efforts to build a society of solidarity, where each person can experience the dignity of being a son or daughter (…) The parable teaches that  no one should have to live in inhuman conditions, as his younger son did. (…) Often we are tempted to believe that hatred and revenge are legitimate ways of ensuring quick and effective justice. Yet experience tells us that hatred, division and revenge succeed only in killing our people’s soul, poisoning our children’s hopes, and  destroying and sweeping away everything we cherish.”

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