Pope Francis praises Moroccans for welcoming migrants and rejecting fanaticism

Pope Francis' Morocco trip is aimed at promoting moderate Islam and showing solidarity with migrants fleeing to Europe. In February, Francis visited the UAE, where he emphasized the need for interfaith dialogue.

In his address to Moroccans shortly after reaching the capital, Rabat, on Saturday, Pope Francis said it was "essential to oppose fanaticism."

News | 14.08.2014

The "appropriate preparation of future religious guides is necessary," said the pontiff, who has put interreligious dialogue at the center of his two-day visit to the North African country, the first by a pope in 34 years.

Francis also defended "freedom of conscience" and "religious freedom" as fundamental for human dignity, and called on the faithful to "live as brothers."

The pope praised Morocco's efforts to promote an Islam that repudiates extremism. Morocco, a Sunni-Muslim kingdom of 36 million people, overhauled its religious policies following terrorist bombings in Casablanca in 2003 that killed 43 people.

Read more: Morocco breaks up recruitment cell for 'Islamic State'

Solidarity with refugees

The pontiff was unequivocal in his support for Middle Eastern and North African migrants and refugees who flee their war-torn countries in search of safety in Europe. Morocco has become a key departure point for African migrants trying to reach Europe.

Francis stressed that social and economic justice, and not physical barriers, is the way to resolve the migration problems.

"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 at the welcoming ceremony.

"We know too that the consolidation of true peace comes through the pursuit of social justice, which is indispensable for correcting the economic imbalances and political unrest that have always had a major role in generating conflicts and threatening the whole of humanity," he said.

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Pope holds historic public Mass in United Arab Emirates

Moderate Islam

One of the highlights of the pontiff's Morocco tour is his Saturday visit to the Mohammed VI Institute, a school of learning for imams that are exponents of a softer version of Islam.

In February, Francis visited the United Arab Emirates, where he and the imam of Cairo's Al Azhar university signed a landmark joint statement emphasizing the brotherly relation between Catholics and Muslims.

Read more: Opinion: Pope Francis' UAE trip a historic milestone

King Mohammed VI backed Pope Francis' efforts to strengthen interreligious harmony and said the only way to combat radicalism is through education.

"What all terrorists have in common is not religion, but rather ignorance of religion," he stressed.

Francis lauded King Mohammed VI's efforts to promote a moderate form of Islam that values interreligious dialogue and rejects terrorism in God's name.

Calls for cohesion in Jerusalem

Together they released a joint statement saying Jerusalem should be a "symbol of peaceful coexistence" for Christians, Jews and Muslims.

They said Jerusalem was "common patrimony of humanity and especially the followers of the three monotheistic religions."

"The specific multi-religious character, the spiritual dimension and the particular cultural identity of Jerusalem... must be protected and promoted."

Read more: Pope opposes branding Islam as 'terrorist'

5 years of Pope Francis

'Buona sera!'

On March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio greeted the crowd in St. Peter's Square in the heart of Rome with a simple "good evening!" moments after the Conclave had selected him as the new pope. He thus began his term with a down-to-earth tone that has marked his stewardship of the Catholic Church ever since.

5 years of Pope Francis

Reform committee 'K9'

The new pontiff immediately tackled topics that the Catholic Church had been discussing before his election. He set up a nine-person cardinal conference to reform the church's organization and direction. The guiding principle: the Roman Catholic Church is not an end in itself. Instead, it should seek to spread the teachings of the Bible and bring the Vatican and its followers closer together.

5 years of Pope Francis

Supporting the weak

The deaths of migrants crossing from Africa to Europe are "a thorn in the heart," said Pope Francis on his first bridge building trip to Lampedusa. At the time of his visit in the summer of 2013, thousands of migrants were on the Italian island hoping to receive legal permits to continue their journey onto the European mainland.

5 years of Pope Francis

Symbol of humility

It aligned perfectly with his own message of the "poor church:" the picture of Pope Francis with the 30-year-old Renault 4 that he had received as a gift from a pastor in Verona. Francis reportedly wanted to drive the car, but was not allowed to due to security concerns. The symbol of modesty has endured.

5 years of Pope Francis

Francis the celebrity

Francis' worldly style quickly made him an icon for progressive Catholics and other Christians. Even non-Christians applauded the pope and rubbed their eyes in amazement at the contrast between Francis and his conservative and academic predecessor, Pope Benedict. After 10 months in office, Francis became the first pope to make the cover of "Rolling Stone" magazine.

5 years of Pope Francis

Controversial bridge builder

Francis takes his task as bridge builder very seriously. He has acted as a mediator between warring parties in civil conflicts in central Africa and Colombia and also helped bring an end to frozen relations between the US and Cuba. With an eye toward the Mexican-US border, he has also urged US President Donald Trump to build bridges rather than walls.

5 years of Pope Francis

Believers and religions from all corners of the earth

Francis has also tried to build bridges between confessions and religions. He prayed at the wailing wall in Jerusalem and met the Grand Mufti Mohammad Hussein. In Egypt, he visited the head of the Coptic Church, Tawadros II, and Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb. In Myanmar, he spoke to Buddhist monks and in Havanna, he met with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kyrill I (pictured).

5 years of Pope Francis

People person

Francis spontaneously wed a couple on an airplane during a trip to Chile in January 2018. The two crew members were traveling with the pope on a flight from the capital Santiago to the northern city of Iquique. They had apparently told Francis of their plans to marry.

5 years of Pope Francis

Criticism from within the church

Francis' reform course has been too radical for some clerics. This poster in Rome accused Francis of showing no mercy within the church. He reportedly also has little time for dissent within the Vatican. Some church members think his course is too secular, his humility too bold, its display too media-orientated. The essence of religiosity – spirituality – some fear, could get lost in it all.

5 years of Pope Francis

Sexual abuse scandal in the Church

But the major challenge now faced by Francis is the problem of sexual abuse, including of minors, by church representatives. In January, the pontiff was heavily criticized for supporting Chilean Bishop Juan Barros (pictured right), accused of an abuse cover-up. On a recent trip to Ireland, the pope begged for forgiveness amid an abuse scandal there. But critics say much more is needed.

shs,aw/jlw (AFP, AP, dpa)

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