Vatican City, Mar 28, 2019 / 12:42 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis travels to Rabat, the capital of Morocco, this weekend, where he said he will follow in the footsteps of St. John Paul II, who visited the North African country in 1985.
“Following in the footsteps of my predecessor Saint John Paul II, I come as a pilgrim of peace and of fraternity, in a world which has great need of both,” Francis said in a video message sent ahead of his March 30-31 visit.
Thirty-four years after St. John Paul II traveled to Morocco and six other African countries, Pope Francis will go to address immigration and dialogue between Christians and Muslims, and to support the small Catholic community in the country, Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said.
Morocco has just under 35 million inhabitants, just 23,000 of whom are Catholic. The two Catholic dioceses, Rabat and Tanger, have a combined 35 parishes. The country is around 99 percent Muslim.
In his March 28 message to Moroccans, Pope Francis said he is grateful to God for granting him the opportunity to visit the country, and to King Mohammed VI for the invitation.
The first day of the trip will be devoted to the pope’s meetings with Mohammed VI and the Moroccan authorities, and will include stops at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V and a training institute for imams. The day will conclude with a meeting with immigrants.
“This journey also offers me the invaluable occasion to visit the Christian community in Morocco and to encourage its progress,” the pope said. “I will meet migrants too, who represent an appeal to build together a more just and fraternal world.”
On March 31, the pope will meet with priests, religious, consecrated, and an ecumenical council. He will then lead the Angelus prayer. After lunch with the bishops of Morocco, he will celebrate Mass.
Christians and Muslims, Francis noted, both “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.”
God “has entrusted the earth – our common home – to them, to care for it responsibly and to preserve it for future generations,” he continued. “It will be a joy for me to share these firm convictions with you directly at our meeting in Rabat.”
The message concluded with Pope Francis’ assurances of prayers for the people of Morocco and for their country, and the expression of his “heartfelt thanks,” in advance, for their welcome.
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