PIME Missionary: The Pope in Morocco, to relaunch interreligious dialogue

On March 30 and 31, Francis will visit the North African country at the invitation of King Mohammad VI. Great expectations among Catholics, many of them immigrants from the sub-Saharan area. A young and living community. Father Davide, missionary in Algeria: "Unique opportunity" to give visibility to the local Church.


Rabat (AsiaNews) - The apostolic journey of Pope Francis to Morocco, as happened recently in the United Arab Emirates, can give "a new impetus to the level of interreligious dialogue". And it can contribute to "giving greater visibility to the local Church".

This is what Fr. Davide Carraro, a 38-year-old PIME priest, tells AsiaNews. He has been on a mission in Algeria after spending two years in Egypt to learn Arabic. "The local Christian community in Morocco - he explains - but even more in Algeria struggles to make its presence visible, certainly not because of the desire to hide, but because the numbers that are still small".

The priest of Venetian origins explains, that among the regional countries there is the hope that "the presence of a pope in the area can contribute to strengthening a path of dialogue and true collaboration" between the two great monotheistic faiths.

Added to this is the wish for “greater mutual knowledge, because the pontiff’s every movement is carefully followed and is a source of visibility. It can highlight the positive involvement of the local Christian community, within the society in which it finds itself "to live and profess faith in conditions that are not always favorable.

The Algerian Church, continues Fr. Davide, “will be present with a delegation of bishops and some faithful on a personal basis. This is not due to lack of attention, indeed, but to logistical and resource problems ". It remains to be seen, he adds, "if and how the local press will talk about it. It will be interesting to see if it can have a wide echo and positive connotations as happened in the Emirates ”.

Pope Francis will go to Morocco at the invitation of King Mohammad VI, with the common goal of "developing interreligious dialogue" between Islam and Christianity as stated in the official note. For the archbishop of Rabat, Msgr. Cristóbal López Romero it is a "unique opportunity" to show "what matters most is what unites us, compared to what divides us".

In the capital there is a climate of great expectation among Catholics, a cosmopolitan reality made up of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, locals and (few) Europeans. The hunt is on among the faithful for tickets to attend mass. Most immigrants from other African nations have chosen Morocco as a destination for study, work or as a basis in an attempt to one day reach Europe. "Their presence - explains Fr. Daniel, a priest in Rabat - brings a new breath, I have never seen so young a church, with an average age of 30-35 years ".

In Morocco there are about 35 thousand Catholics, a number ten times lower than in the times before independence in 1956. At the time of French colonialism there were about 200 churches, while today there are 44 scattered among the archdiocese of Rabat and that of Tangier. Sub-Saharan immigration largely contributed to saving Christian places of worship, in two waves: students in the early 1990s and economic migrants of the last decade.

The Pope's visit could give new impetus to the encounter and dialogue with Muslims, as the 24-year-old Congolese student Cyrvine hopes: "Some Muslims think that we do not have the same God and that we will end up in hell, but the Pope's visit will be opportunity to bring communities and religions together”. The girl is a member of the choir and is impatient to meet Francis.

The local constitution establishes that Islam is the state religion, but at the same time guarantees "freedom of worship for all". It should also be emphasized that the Criminal Code punishes "proselytism" with penalties from six months to three years in prison; and, in many cases, parishes prefer to "avoid" putting the Moroccan faithful in the front rows because "it is a sensitive issue".

In terms of legislation, in Tunisia and Morocco there is greater freedom of worship than in Algeria. "Our reality - the PIME missionary continues - would need a greater presence of local faithful, but this will still require time and it is all in God’s hands". Our task, he concludes, "as priests but above all as missionaries is to be present on a social and pastoral level in a context that is almost entirely Muslim. Being a visible presence and demonstrating that we can be together ”.

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