Pope Francis will focus on the situation of migrants when he visits Morocco at the end of March, according to the nation’s bishops.
In a press conference in Casablanca Tuesday, the archbishop of Rabat, Cristobal Lopez Romero, and the archbishop of Tangier, Santiago Agrelo Martinez, told reporters that the pope would be coming to Morocco as a shepherd, reaching out to the peripheries.
More than half of the 27,000 Catholic faithful living in Morocco are immigrants, many of them coming from Sub-Saharan Africa looking for work or educational opportunities, or en route to Europe. Assisted by local parishes, many of these hope to be able to see the pope during his apostolic visit this March 30-31.
“For logistical reasons the pope’s visit will center on the city of Rabat,” said the city’s Archbishop Cristobal Lopez Romero, “but there has been a great effort so that Christians from all around the country can travel to be able to see him. All the parishes are already mobilizing to find the way to bring as many people as possible.”
“Pope Francis loves to go to frontiers, to places of transit,” Romero said.
Tangier’s Archbishop Santiago Agrelo Martinez said that the pope’s visit would help highlight the situation of migrants, many of whom live in precarious conditions in the Muslim majority country.
“We have to prioritize to whom the aid goes first. Our church suffers from lack of funds,” said Agrelo Martinez. “We can give migrants food, plastic, covers, yet we can’t give them the respect they deserve. They are people, not animals.”
Agrelo Martinez said he hopes that Francis’s visit will bring hope and healing.
“We sometimes lose hope and I hope that the Pope’s visit will bring progress on this issue,” he said, adding that his “greatest concern” is the rights of migrants, who lack the means to defend themselves legally.
In past years, Morocco has distinguished itself in fighting against Islamic extremism by breaking up a series of Islamic terror cells and thwarting attacks.
As part of its efforts against terrorism, Morocco set up its own home intelligence agency in 2015, the Bureau Central d’Investigation Judiciaire (BCJI), which has taken credit for uncovering 40 terrorist cells and arresting nearly 600 people in its first two years of operations.
Also in 2015, Morocco passed a law calling for the monitoring of Moroccan travelers visiting Libya, Syria, or Iraq and stipulated severe punitive measures for anyone connected to terror groups.
The Moroccan population is overwhelmingly Muslim, with more than 99 percent of the nation professing Sunni Islam.
The remaining one percent is composed of Christians, Jews, Shia Muslims, and Bahais, who enjoy relative freedom of worship, which does not extend to full religious freedom, according to the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
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