Pope Francis dedicates Sunday his second day in Morocco to the tiny Christian communities of the country, the opportunity to warn against any temptation of “proselytism” to expand their ranks.
In Rabat Cathedral, surrounded by a tight security device, the pope explained to small Christian communities that the important thing was not to be numerous, but to illustrate very concretely the teachings of the Church.
“Continue to be close to those who are often left out, the poor and the poor, prisoners and migrants,” said the pope, who had met the previous day 80 migrants in a Caritas humanitarian center.
On the other hand, “the roads of the mission do not go through proselytism, which always leads to a dead end”, strongly insisted the pope. “Please, no proselytism!”, He said as he left his text, “the Church is growing not by proselytism but by testimony”.
The recurrent remark of the pope takes a particular resonance in a country where proselytism active with Moroccan Muslims can be up to three years in prison. On the other hand, Muslims theoretically have the right to convert if it is their own choice, a notable opening compared to other countries like the United Arab Emirates where conversion incurs death.
“Christians of other countries”
The King of Morocco Mohammed VI, present Saturday afternoon to the side of the pope with the exception of the more confidential meeting with migrants, had said: “I protect Moroccan Jews and Christians from other countries who live in Morocco”.
He therefore made no reference to the very discreet existence of thousands of Moroccans who converted to Christianity, who refrained from passing the door of a church and pleaded since 2017 to fully benefit from the freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution.
Inside the cathedral of Rabat, pavilions and repainted for the occasion, religious representatives, priests and sisters, from Morocco but also other countries of West Africa, welcomed the Pope with emotion, punctuating his arrival of youyous and applause, immortalizing the moment with their cell phones.
The Pope thanked them for their “humble and discreet presence”, embracing their oldest sister Ersillia Mantovani, 97, an Italian Franciscan who has just celebrated 80 years of religious life. Before participating in a warm crowd, during which some sisters have maliciously kissed his pontifical ring.
A priest had warned the 400 or so people present in the cathedral that the pontiff did not like this practice, which can spread microbes among the faithful.
The pope greeted before leaving the representatives of the Council of Christian Churches of Morocco, created to promote the ecumenical dialogue, which brings together Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical, Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches.
Hundreds of faithful, from Europe or sub-Saharan Africa, also looked forward to the pope’s departure from the cathedral, in the heart of old Rabat. “Viva daddy!”, Enthused a faithful.
“The visit of the pope shows that living together is possible in Morocco,” said Antoine, a 36-year-old Nigerian. But “there are things to improve, including the issue of migrants and that of Moroccan Christians,” said the man who works in Rabat in an association for the defense of migrants’ rights.
“We woke up at 3:00 am to be here,” said Iris, a French woman who lives “three months a year” in Essaouira, 450 km south of Rabat. “Seeing the Pope in Rome is something, but seeing it in Rabat is another,” said the woman who found the Pope’s “moving and real” homily.
In the morning, the pontiff had also visited a social center run by sisters and volunteers about 20 km from Rabat, including a health center where the pope greeted sick children.
Highly anticipated by the small community carried by the faithful from sub-Saharan Africa, the highlight of the day will however be the celebration of a mass in a covered sports complex.
Morocco has about 30,000 Catholics, ten times less than before its independence, in 1956. There were 200 churches at the time of French and Spanish colonization, it remains today 44.