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

‘Person of interest’ identified after suspicious meat left in North Delta park

Piles of meat have been dumped near the 63rd Avenue trail entrance four times in the last 30 days

Body recovered from Fraser River not suspicious: Delta police

Police were called to the 400-block of Audley Rd. on Annacis Island the morning of Friday, Aug. 16

Fundraiser launched for South Surrey stabbing victim’s funeral

Paul Prestbakmo remembered for ‘amazing smile, great soul’

Surrey-raised Merkules raps his way around the world

Cole Stevenson opens up about his ‘Scars,’ a hit remix of ‘Old Town Road’ and how he’s pals with Shaq

Disney Plus to launch in Canada in November

Analysts say latest streaming service may escalate cord cutting

B.C. manhunt suspects left cellphone video before they died: family

Family member says Kam McLeod, Bryer Schmegelsky recorded final wishes

Okanagan bus driver assaulted for asking patron not to smoke

59-year-old in hospital with non-life threatening injuries

Mouse infestation hit Langley hospital’s kitchens

Droppings and urine were found by Fraser Health inspectors in the spring

Son of slain former Hells Angel is one of two men sentenced for crime spree

Pair’s 2017 series of Lower Mainland robberies stretched from Surrey to Mission

B.C. sets rules for ride hailing, same minimum fee as taxis

Larger operating areas seen as threat by cab companies

Two hiking families team up to extinguish fire in B.C. backcountry

Children and their parents worked for three hours to ensure safety of the popular hiking region

B.C. mom mourns 14-year-old son whose fatal overdose was posted online

Chantell Griffiths misses the son she hadn’t seen much in recent years

Most Read