JOHANNESBURG- Pope Francis has begun his apostolic visit to the North African nation of Morocco.
The trip to Morocco seeks to promote inter-religious dialogue and support efforts by the North African country’s King Mohammed VI to spread a moderate form of Islam.
Pope Francis is the second pontiff to visit Morocco. Pope John Paul II visited Morocco en route to the Maghreb in 1985.
The streets of Rabat, the capital city of Morocco, are lined with the country’s flag, as one drives from the small airport to the city centre. The roads are immaculately clean, security forces are visible — especially around the capital’s Cathedral of St Peter — and the sidewalks neatly trimmed, according to reports.
This will be Francis’ second visit to a Muslim country in as many months. In early February, he became the first pope ever to make an official visit to the UAE when he went to Abu Dhabi on an official visit.
The Vatican has also released an official logo bearing the motto for his trip — as a ‘Servant of Hope’ to the North African nation. According to Vatican News this was also the title of the pastoral letter given to the pope when the bishops of North Africa visited Rome in 2015.
The Moroccan population is estimated to be 99% Muslim. There are only about 40,000 Catholics in the country — which is made up of 35.7 million people. Most of the Christians are not Moroccans, but immigrants from other African countries who have chosen to make Morocco their home.
The Vatican said of the Pope’s visit to Morocco: “It is historical: it is the meeting between two religious and moral authorities that are Amir Al Mouminine and the Sovereign Pontiff. It is an extension of the legacy of the meeting, 34 years ago, between His Majesty the late Hassan II, and His Holiness Pope John Paul II.”
The Vatican added that Pope Francis’ visit as a “pilgrim of peace and fraternity is a unique opportunity to remember that Morocco is a land of coexistence, tolerance and moderation.”