Pope Francis turned his attention Sunday to ministering to Morocco’s small Christian community after reaching out to the kingdom’s Muslim majority and calling for a greater welcome for its growing number of migrants.
On the second day of a 27-hour visit to Morocco, Francis visited a church-run social services center and met with Catholic priests and other Christian representatives in the cathedral of the capital, Rabat. He is scheduled to wrap up his trip with a Mass in the city’s sports stadium.
Francis thanked Morocco on Saturday for protecting migrants and warned that walls and fear-mongering would not stop people from leaving their home countries in search of opportunities and safety. Morocco has become the main departure point in Africa for migrants attempting to reach Europe after Italy essentially closed its borders to asylum-seekers leaving from Libya.
The pope’s comments had additional resonance in the region he was visiting since Spain has a border fence at its Northern African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla to try to keep out migrants.
“The issue of migration will never be resolved by raising barriers, fomenting fear of others or denying assistance to those who legitimately aspire to a better life for themselves and their families,” Francis said.
Francis met with migrants from Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon and other countries, telling them they deserved to be welcomed. He called for expanded legal channels for migration and protections for the most vulnerable.
“You are not the marginalized. You are at the center of the church’s heart,” he assured them.
Francis has made the plight of refugees a hallmark of his papacy and used many of his foreign visits to insist on the moral imperative for countries to protect and integrate them.
Upon his arrival Saturday, Francis also praised Morocco’s tradition of interfaith coexistence and its efforts to promote a moderate form of Islam.
Muslims, Christians and Jews have long lived peacefully in Morocco. Catholics are tiny minority of about 23,000.
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.