Pope Francis heads to Muslim-majority Morocco ‘as a pilgrim of peace’

Pope Francis heads to Muslim-majority Morocco ‘as a pilgrim of peace’

Gerard O’Connell  March 28, 2019


In this 2016 file photo, a super moon rises above the roof of the Mohammed V mausoleum in Rabat, Morocco. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the North African nation in March 2019. (CNS photo/Abdelhak Senna, EPA)

On eve of visit, Pope Francis tells Moroccans: ‘I come as a pilgrim of peace and fraternity, in a world that greatly needs it.’

Continuing to write a new page in Christian-Muslim relations, Pope Francis will visit the Kingdom of Morocco this weekend, March 30 and 31. He goes to promote interreligious dialogue, to foster peace and fraternity between Christians and Muslims, and to provide encouragement to the tiny Christian community of this majority-Muslim country in North Africa.

“I come as a pilgrim of peace and fraternity, in a world that greatly needs it,” he said in a video message to the “dear people of Morocco” on the eve of his visit. He offered the traditional Muslim greeting, salaam alaikum, and thanked God “for granting me this opportunity” and King Mohammed VI of Morocco “for his kind invitation.”

Then, in words that echoed the groundbreaking document that he signed last month in Abu Dhabi with Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university, the pope told them:

As Christians and Muslims, we believe in God the Creator and Merciful One, who has created men and women and placed them on the earth so that they might live together as brothers and sisters, respecting each other’s diversity and helping each other in their need. He has entrusted the earth—our common home—to them, to care for it responsibly and to preserve it for future generations. It will be a joy for me to share these firm convictions with you directly at our meeting in Rabat.

Moreover, he told them, “this journey also offers me the invaluable occasion to visit the Christian community in Morocco and to encourage its progress.”

“I come as a pilgrim of peace and fraternity, in a world that greatly needs it,” the pope said in a video message to the “dear people of Morocco.”

The pope also confirmed that he will meet with migrants, “who represent an appeal to build together a more just and fraternal world.”

He concluded his brief message, broadcast on national television in Morocco in both Arabic and French, with these words: “Dear Moroccan friends, I already express my heartfelt thanks for your welcome, and above all for your prayers. And I assure you of my own prayers for you and for your dear country.”

The visit to Morocco is his second in two months to an Islamic country where there are almost no native-born Christians today, even though Christianity first came to this land between the second and third centuries. Today, almost all the Christians living here are migrants from other countries, mainly from Europe and other parts of Africa.

Pope Francis comes at the invitation of King Mohammed VI, “the commander of the faithful” in this land, and will be welcomed by the kingdom’s two Catholic bishops, both of whom were born in Spain.

A mere 23,000 Catholics of many nationalities live in this country of 35 million people, about one-tenth the number of faithful who were in the country when Morocco gained its independence from France in 1956. They are served by 46 priests and 178 women religious.

“We are a truly ‘Catholic’ people...who seek to live ‘unity in diversity,’” the archbishop of Rabat, Cristóbal López Romero, a Salesian priest who worked for two decades in Paraguay before coming here, told the Italian missionary magazine Mondo e Missione on the eve of the visit. Maintaining unity is no easy task, he said, “because every year some 25 percent of the Christians leave and more arrive.”

The visit has an important dimension of interreligious dialogue and brotherhood between the different faiths in this land where the Constitution guarantees to everyone the freedom to practice one’s faith. At the same time, however, conversion from Islam to Christianity is forbidden. It is a criminal offense to proselytize or convert a Moroccan, punishable by a prison sentence of between six months and three years. Alluding to this, Archbishop López told the Spanish Catholic radio station COPE that the church is not seeking “rights for Christians in Morocco,” but “we would be happy if all the Moroccan people could [enjoy] all the freedoms, both of religion and conscience.”

The visit has an important dimension of interreligious dialogue and brotherhood between the different faiths in this land where the Constitution guarantees to everyone the freedom to practice one’s faith.

In early March, Archbishop López and the archbishop of Tangier, Santiago Agrelo Martínez, O.F.M., also Spanish-born, expressed the hope that the pope’s visit would help highlight the situation of migrants in this land, which has become a main transit point for many migrants trying to reach Europe. Since the beginning of this year, some 47,000 of them have traveled by sea to Spain, mostly from the port of Tangier, but at least 564 have died on the way, according to the International Organization of Migration.

Francis is the second pope to come to Morocco. St. John Paul II visited in 1985 at the invitation of King Mohammed V. The king saw him as “a moral voice in the world,” Cardinal Francis Arinze, who accompanied the pope, recalled in an interview after that visit. It was the Polish pope’s first visit to a majority-Muslim country. He stopped over for six hours in Morocco at the end of a visit to several other African countries and was given a warm welcome on the streets of Casablanca, with banners that said, “Welcome Holy Father to the land of Islam!” At the king’s invitation, John Paul II spoke for 45 minutes to 80,000 young Muslims, all dressed in white, at the stadium in Casablanca. It was a landmark speech that emphasized the highest ideals of Christianity and Islam. In 1997, Morocco and the Holy See established diplomatic relations.

The Jesuit pope has already visited eight majority-Muslim countries. He will spend most of two days in Morocco and will reside at the Holy See’s embassy in the port city of Rabat, the country’s capital.

He comes as “a servant of hope,” as the motto for his visit makes clear. He comes on the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi’s meeting with Sultan al-Malik al Kāmil of Egypt and also the 800th anniversary of the presence of Franciscans in this land, and will no doubt refer to this milestone in his talks.

Pope Francis will arrive at the Rabat airport of Rabat at two o’clock on Saturday afternoon and will be welcomed by the king, who traces his ancestry to the Prophet Mohammed.

The rest of the day is essentially a state visit. It involves a visit to the royal palace, where Francis will be given an official welcome as head of the Vatican City State; later in the day, the pope will have a private meeting with King Mohammed VI. In a letter to Francis on the sixth anniversary of his election, the king not only wished him “good health, happiness and greater success in his noble mission to spread human values” but also expressed his determination to continue working with the pope to uphold “noble religious and spiritual values shared by humanity, values that promote peace, tolerance and coexistence and reject all forms of ignorance, hate and extremism.”

Afterward, the pope will ride to the Esplanade of the Hassan II Mosque and address the Moroccan people in a ceremony that will be aired live on national television. He will deliver it in Italian, but with simultaneous translation in Arabic and French.

From there, Francis will visit the Mohammed V Mausoleum and the Mohammed VI Institute for imams and preachers, which was inaugurated in 2015 and plays a role in the formation of imams from Arabic, European and African countries (especially Tunisia, Mali, Ivory Coast and Guinea). There, accompanied by the king, he will greet the students of the institute in the presence of the minister of Islamic Affairs. Neither he nor the king are scheduled to speak, but they will listen to testimonies from two students—one African, the other European—and to religious chants in the Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions.

He will conclude his first day in Morocco by visiting the diocesan Caritas headquarters, where he will greet migrants from many countries.

He will devote his second day in Morocco to the tiny Christian community. He begins the day by visiting a rural social service center at Tamara, on the outskirts of the city, which was first managed by the Jesuits but is today run by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

From there he will go to St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rabat, where he will address priests, women and men religious and representatives of the other Christian creeds. Afterward, he will have lunch with the bishops of Morocco, and, before returning to Rome, will celebrate Mass for around 10,000 migrants in the Prince Moulay Abdellah Sports Complex. It will be the largest Mass ever celebrated in this country.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of Pope Francis.]


Gerard O’Connell

Gerard O’Connell is America’s Vatican correspondent

New superior general of the Society of the Divine Word

New superior general of the Society of the Divine Word named, comes from Indonesia




FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                         
July 4, 2018

Contact: Father Modeste Munini SVD
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Nemi, Italy -- On July 4, 2018, the capitulars of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) gathered at the Centro Ad Gentes in Nemi, Italy, for the 18th General Chapter, today elected Father Paulus Budi Kleden SVD as the 12th Superior General of the Society of the Divine Word.

Father Kleden was born in Indonesia in 1965. He joined the Society of the Divine Word in 1985. He made his first profession of vows in 1987 and perpetual vows in 1992. He was ordained a priest in 1993. He studied theology in San Gabriel, Austria. He was first assigned to Switzerland from 1993 to 1996, then in a formation house in Ledalero, Indonesia. He was member of the Provincial Council in the ENDE (Indonesia) Province from 2005 to 2008. In 2012, he was elected general councillor. He will continue in that capacity until he assumes the office of the superior general in a few months.

UN Refugee Agency - Welcoming the Stranger



This document is available in other languages in the PDF file listed lower on the page.

A core value of my faith is to welcome the stranger, the refugee, the internally displaced, the other. I shall treat him or her as I would like to be treated. I will challenge others, even leaders in my faith community, to do the same.

Together with faith leaders, faith-based organizations and communities of conscience around the world, I affirm:

I will welcome the stranger.

My faith teaches that compassion, mercy, love and hospitality are for everyone: the native born and the foreign born, the member of my community and the newcomer.

I will remember and remind members of my community that we are all considered “strangers” somewhere, that we should treat the stranger to our community as we would like to be treated, and challenge intolerance.

I will remember and remind others in my community that no one leaves his or her homeland without a reason: some flee because of persecution, violence or exploitation; others due to natural disaster; yet others out of love to provide better lives for their families.

I recognize that all persons are entitled to dignity and respect as human beings. All those in my country, including the stranger, are subject to its laws, and none should be subject to hostility or discrimination.

I acknowledge that welcoming the stranger sometimes takes courage, but the joys and the hopes of doing so outweigh the risks and the challenges. I will support others who exercise courage in welcoming the stranger.

I will offer the stranger hospitality, for this brings blessings upon the community, upon my family, upon the stranger and upon me.

I will respect and honor the reality that the stranger may be of a different faith or hold beliefs different from mine or other members of my community.

I will respect the right of the stranger to practice his or her own faith freely. I will seek to create space where he or she can freely worship.

I will speak of my own faith without demeaning or ridiculing the faith of others.

I will build bridges between the stranger and myself. Through my example, I will encourage others to do the same.

I will make an effort not only to welcome the stranger, but also to listen to him or her deeply, and to promote understanding and welcome in my community.

I will speak out for social justice for the stranger, just as I do for other members of my community.

Where I see hostility towards the stranger in my community, whether through words or deeds, I will not ignore it, but will instead endeavor to establish a dialogue and facilitate peace.

I will not keep silent when I see others, even leaders in my faith community, speaking ill of strangers, judging them without coming to know them, or when I see them being excluded, wronged or oppressed.

I will encourage my faith community to work with other faith communities and faith-based organizations to find better ways to assist the stranger.

I will welcome the stranger.

Founding Principles

The call to “welcome the stranger,” through protection and hospitality, and to honor the stranger or those of other faiths with respect and equality, is deeply rooted in all major religions.

In the Upanishads, the mantra atithi devo bhava or “the guest is as God” expresses the fundamental importance of hospitality in Hindu culture. Central to the Hindu Dharma, or Law, are the values of karuna or compassion, ahimsa or non-violence towards all, and seva or the willingness to serve the stranger and the unknown guest. Providing food and shelter to a needy stranger was a traditional duty of the householder and is practiced by many still. More broadly, the concept of Dharma embodies the task to do one’s duty, including an obligation to the community, which should be carried out respecting values such as non-violence and selfless service for the greater good.

The Tripitaka highlights the importance of cultivating four states of mind: metta (loving kindness), muditha (sympathetic joy), upekkha (equanimity), and karuna (compassion). There are many different traditions of Buddhism, but the concept of karuna is a fundamental tenet in all of them. It embodies the qualities of tolerance, non-discrimination, inclusion and empathy for the suffering of others, mirroring the central role which compassion plays in other religions.

The Torah makes thirty-six references to honoring the “stranger.” The book of Leviticus contains one of the most prominent tenets of the Jewish faith: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Further, the Torah provides that "You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

In Matthew’s Gospel (25:35) we hear the call: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” And in the Letter to the Hebrews (13:1-2) we read, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

When the Prophet Muhammad fled persecution in Mecca, he sought refuge in Medina, where he was hospitably welcomed. The Prophet's hijrah, or migration, symbolizes the movement from lands of oppression, and his hospitable treatment embodies the Islamic model of refugee protection. The Holy Qur’an calls for the protection of the asylum seeker, or al-mustamin, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, whose safety is irrevocably guaranteed under the institution of Aman (the provision of security and protection). As noted in the Surat Al-Anfal: “Those who give asylum and aid are in very truth the believers: for them is the forgiveness of sins and a provision most generous.” (8:74)

There are tens of millions of refugees and internally displaced people in the world. Our faiths demand that we remember we are all migrants on this earth, journeying together in hope.


In December 2012, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres organized a Dialogue with faith leaders, faith-based humanitarian organizations, academics and government representatives from countries around the world on the theme of “Faith and Protection.” As the High Commissioner noted in his opening remarks, “…all major religious value systems embrace humanity, caring and respect, and the tradition of granting protection to those in danger. The principles of modern refugee law have their oldest roots in these ancient texts and traditions.” At the conclusion of this landmark event, the High Commissioner embraced a recommendation for the development of a Code of Conduct for faith leaders to welcome migrants, refugees and other forcibly displaced people, and stand together against xenophobia.

In response to this call, from February through April 2013, a coalition of leading faith-based humanitarian organizations and academic institutions (including HIAS, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Jesuit Refugee Service, Lutheran World Federation, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Religions for Peace, University of Vienna Faculty of Roman Catholic Theology, World Council of Churches, World

Evangelical Alliance and World Vision International) drafted “Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders.” The Affirmations, which have been translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, Hebrew, Russian and Spanish, inspire leaders of all faiths to “welcome the stranger” with dignity, respect and loving support. Faith groups around the world will use the Affirmations and supporting resources as practical tools to foster support for refugees and other displaced people in their communities.


Saudi Interfaith Center Opens In Vienna

Saudi Interfaith Center Opens In Vienna

A major new international interreligious dialogue initiative, in which the Holy See is participating as Founding Observer, was inaugurated Monday evening in Vienna, Austria. An initiative originally of the king of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, and named after him, the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, or KAICIID, has come to involve the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Spain, and the Republic of Austria, as Founders, with the Holy See participating as a Founding Observer.

Conceived as a major international hub of interfaith and interreligious dialogue in which the sharing of practical know-how developed through hard work at building concord, understanding and peaceful co-existence can take place, and grievances be addressed and remedies to them proposed, KAICIID has the recognition and full support of the United Nations. UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon was in attendance Monday as one of the guests of honour, and spoke words of encouragement. "I fully support your vision of religion as an enabler of respect and reconciliation," said Ban in his remarks to some 800 guests, including guests of honour, among whom were major religious leaders: His Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I; the Chief Rabbi of Moscow and President of European Rabbis, Pinchas Goldschmidt; the President of the Islamic League, Dr. Abdullah Al Turki. High-ranking government officials were among the guests of honour as well, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud al Faisal Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Austria, Dr. Michael Spindlegger, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Spain, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo y Marfil, all of whom also offered their countries’ official auspices for the KAICIID initiative in terms and tones of palpable urgency.

There is no denying KAICIID is an ambitious project: King Abdullah has offered three years of support to it, during which KAICIID is to become financially self-sufficient, and after which KAICIID must stand and walk on its own, or stumble and fall. Indeed, one might define the formal inauguration ceremony Monday evening at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna as an evening of Imperatives. Expressions like, “the Centre must succeed,” and, “this initiative must not fail,” were on the lips of each of the guests of honour who delivered remarks. The Holy See was represented by the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who perhaps said it best when he called attention to the inescapable fact that the eyes of the world are on KAICIID. “We are being watched,” he said, and went on to say, “Everyone is expecting from the initiative of His Majesty King Abdullah, supported by the governments of Austria and Spain, with the assistance of the Holy See as Founding Observer, honesty, vision and credibility.” Cardinal Tauran went on to say, “This Centre presents another opportunity for open dialogue on many issues, including those related to fundamental human rights, in particular religious freedom in all its aspects, for everybody, for every community, everywhere.”

“In this regard,” he continued, “you will understand that the Holy See is particularly attentive to the fate of Christian communities in countries where such a freedom is not adequately guaranteed. Information, new initiatives, aspirations, and perhaps also failures will be brought to our attention,” and that, when such things do come to members’ attention, “It then will be the task of the Centre – and when possible with the cooperation of other organizations – to verify their authenticity and to act consequently, in order that our contemporaries not be deprived of the light and the resources that religion offers for the happiness of every human being.”

Chris Altieri reports from Vienna

From Vatican News Today:  http://www.news.va/en/news/cardinal-tauran-kaiciid-a-centre-for-open-dialogue?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=catholiclisa

Who is St Arnold Janssen?

The Janssen Spirituality Centre for Inter-religious and Cross-cultural Relations is named in honour of St Arnold Janssen SVD (1837-1909).

For a brief biography of Arnold Janssen, please click here.

Prayer for Peace

God, you are the source of life and peace.
Praised be your name forever.
We know it is you who turn
our minds to thoughts of peace.
Hear our prayer in this time of crisis.

Read more: Prayer for Peace