Pope visits Morocco to highlight migrants, Muslim ties

King Mohammed VI was on hand to greet Pope Francis when he arrived under a pouring rain in Rabat

Pope Francis landed Saturday in Morocco for a trip aimed at promoting moderate Islam and showing solidarity with the plight of migrants at Europe’s door.

Francis will address both issues on his first day in the North African kingdom and will tend to the country’s Catholic minority when he wraps up the visit Sunday with a Mass and a meeting with Moroccan clergy on Sunday.

King Mohammed VI was on hand to greet Francis when he arrived under a pouring rain in Rabat, the Moroccan capital, for a 27-hour visit.

The two then took separate vehicles — Francis in his popemobile and the king in a convertible Mercedes — and paraded in tandem into town for a formal welcome ceremony at the complex where two of Morocco’s past monarchs are buried.

Women ululated as Francis and the king walked along the promenade of the Hassan Tower complex under umbrellas.

The highlight of the trip is likely to be Francis’ visit Saturday to the Mohammed VI Institute, a school of learning for imams that epitomizes Morocco’s efforts to promote a moderate brand of Islam and export it via preachers to Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Morocco, a Sunni Muslim kingdom of 36 million, reformed its religious policies and education to limit the spread of fundamentalism in 2004, following terrorist bombings in Casablanca in 2003 that killed 43 people.

The weekend trip follows Francis’ February visit to the United Arab Emirates, where the pope and the imam of Cairo’s Al Azhar, the seat of Sunni learning, signed a landmark joint statement establishing the relationship between Catholics and Muslims as brothers, with a common mission to promote peace.

The “Human Fraternity” document outlines a shared set of values and principles common to Christians and Muslims, focusing on the dignity of every person and a rejection of violence committed in God’s name.

Muslims, Christians and Jews have long lived peacefully in Morocco, even though Catholics are a tiny minority of about 23,000. The pope is travelling to Morocco 34 years after St. John Paul II became the first pope to visit.

“As Christians and Muslims, we believe in God the creator and merciful one, who has created men and women and placed them on earth so that they might live together as brothers and sisters, respecting each other’s diversity and helping each other in their need,” Francis said in a video message to Moroccans released on the eve of the trip.

Later Saturday, Francis will visit a migrant centre run by the Caritas charity organization.

Morocco last year became the main departure point for sub-Saharan African migrants seeking to reach Europe via Spain, after Italy essentially closed its borders to migrants leaving from Libya.

The rising numbers of migrants have put pressures on the kingdom, and become a hot political issue in Spain ahead of that country’s April 28 general election.

Since the start of the year, nearly 47,500 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea, while hundreds have died or gone missing on the dangerous journey, according to the International Organization of Migration.

Morocco’s government says it stopped 68,000 illegal migration attempts last year, and the EU agreed over the summer to give Morocco $275 million to halt the flow of migrants.

Nicole Winfield And Amira El Masaiti, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Some of Golden’s top stories in a Mountain Minute

Your Mountain Minute for April 18

TSB makes two safety advisories in probe of fatal train derailment near Field

The train derailment killed three crew members on board

There are many ways to be a sustainable consumer in Golden

Many people are coming up with ways to connect businesses and consumers… Continue reading

Fruitvale man identified in fatal zipline accident in Thailand

Spencer Donaldson, 25, was from Fruitvale, B.C., the city’s mayor has confirmed

Sri Lanka invokes war-time military powers after nearly 300 killed in Easter bombings

Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism says 39 foreign tourists were killed in the Easter Sunday attacks

Deadly synthetic drug found in Kamloops that puts users in ‘zombielike’ state

Interior Health warning says substance causes ‘speedy, trippy-like symptoms’ and hallucinations

Trudeau to be portrayed on ‘Simpsons’ episode

Toronto journalist who’s posted videos of himself doing impressions of the PM voiced him for the show

Elizabeth May’s wedding dress a ‘walk through a garden’ on Earth Day

Green Party leader set to get married in Victoria

Bodies of 3 mountain climbers recovered after last week’s Banff avalanche

The men disappeared while attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak in the Icefields Parkway

Happy birthday: Queen Elizabeth II turns 93 on Easter Sunday

Sunday is the first of two birthday celebrations each year for the queen

RCMP confirm witnesses say body found at Kelowna’s Gyro Beach

Police tape is blocking part of the beach and several RCMP officers are on scene.

B.C. fire department rescues kittens

Enderby homeowner not aware kittens in wood pile near garbage pile fire that got out of hand

Most Read