by Russell Pollitt SJ

Last weekend Pope Francis visited Morocco. During his visit his words and actions were clear: he believes that the Church is for all humanity, not just for those who are already part of it.

He offered a strong message: that division and strife between peoples, personally and between religions and nations, leads to a dead-end.

Francis reached out to the 99% Muslim population of Morocco, by advocating for vulnerable people – most notably migrants and refugees. In his sermon, at the biggest Mass ever in Morocco, he encouraged peaceful co-existence.

Pope Francis wants to show compassion to any person who is suffering. Often he is criticised for his outreach to Islam, China or migrants. But he wants to underline by his spiritual authority that, first and foremost, the Church’s role in the world is to promote peace, not conflict.

When asked about reaching out to Islam when there is violence against Christians in places like Syria, he said that it is not only Islam that has been violent. He said that Christianity too has a history of violence and conquest.

Watching the pope in action gives one the gut sense that he really believes that things can and will change if there is openness to change. He said that Christianity is “not about adhering to a doctrine, or a temple or an ethnic group,” but rather about people encountering each other.

Francis said that we must encounter others, where they are, because we have encountered Christ first. It is encounter, he believes, that will lead to dialogue.

Genuine encounters will overcome religious, ideological and political divisions in his worldview.

After being welcomed in pouring rain (seen as a blessing in many cultures) by King Mohammed VI, Francis spoke of the need to progress beyond just tolerance “to respect and esteem for others.” He believes that this is possible when faith is lived in practice by serving others in the community where believers live and encounter each other.

Francis also addressed the small Christian community in Rabat, Morocco’s capital. The mission of the Church, he said, is not determined by numbers or the spaces it occupies but rather by its capacity to “generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion.” He said that he worried when Christians think that they should dominate. He warned against all that could cause “division and confrontation”.

At the closing mass, before leaving Morocco, he reflected on the Prodigal Son. He addressed peaceful co-existence: “Often we are tempted to believe that hatred and revenge are legitimate ways of ensuring quick and effective justice. Yet experience tells us that hatred, division and revenge succeed only in killing our peoples’ soul, poisoning our children’s hopes, and destroying and sweeping away everything we cherish.”

Francis used the visit to advocate for migrants and refugees. He has become a global voice for the vulnerable, especially migrants. Francis pleaded that migrants are welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated. He said that the right to migrate should be guaranteed as should the right of people not to be forced to leave their native lands.

If you want to finish Lent well, or have material to help you discern your tick on 8 May, take the message of Pope Francis in Morocco to heart. It will offer you much food for thought.

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Image: Pope Francis in Morocco, Russell Pollitt SJ