Thursday, April 11, 2019 - Updated: 2:41 pm
RABAT, Morocco — Celebrating Mass with members of Morocco’s tiny Catholic community, Pope Francis praised them for the many ways they “bear witness to the Gospel of mercy in this land.”
At the Mass March 31 in an arena at Rabat’s Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium, the pope honored the way that Catholics, although much less than 1 percent of the population, reach out to help their Muslim brothers and sisters and the thousands of migrants who pass through, hoping to reach Europe.
“I encourage you to continue to let the culture of mercy grow, a culture in which no one looks at others with indifference, or averts his eyes in the face of their suffering,” he said.
The languages used at the Mass reflected the fact that the Catholic community in Morocco is made up almost entirely of foreigners. The readings were in Spanish, Arabic and French; English, Portuguese and Italian were added for the prayers of the faithful.
More than a dozen Muslim leaders attended the Mass in a sign of friendship and were given seats near the front of the arena.
As is his custom, the pope’s homily at the Mass focused almost entirely on the day’s Gospel reading, which was the story of the prodigal son.
However, Pope Francis put special attention on the elder son in the story, the one who never left home or squandered his inheritance. While the merciful father rejoiced when his younger son returned home, the older son grew angry and refused to join the celebration.
“He prefers isolation to encounter, bitterness to rejoicing,” the pope said. “Not only is he unable to understand or forgive his brother, he cannot accept a father capable of forgiving, willing to wait patiently, to trust and to keep looking, lest anyone be left out — in a word, a father capable of compassion.”
While sad, the elder son’s attitude is not unthinkable or unusual, the pope said. It is the same “tension we experience in our societies and in our communities, and even in our own hearts” when people ask, “Who has the right to stay among us, to take a place at our tables and in our meetings, in our activities and concerns, in our squares and our cities?”
When faced with situations that can bring confrontation, division and strife, he said, “often we are tempted to believe that hatred and revenge are legitimate ways of ensuring quick and effective justice.”
But experience, not to mention faith, “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,” the pope said.
Earlier March 31, he addressed Catholic priests and religious and leaders of other Christian churches at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rabat. Pope Francis said that the Christian mission is not about numbers of converts, but about changing people and the world by being witnesses of God’s mercy and love.
“Christians are a small minority in this country,” much less than 1 percent, but the pope said, “to my mind, this is not a problem.”
“Jesus did not choose us and send us forth to become more numerous,” the pope said. He “called us to a mission. He put us in the midst of society like a handful of yeast: the yeast of the beatitudes and the fraternal love by which, as Christians, we can all join in making present his kingdom,” the pope said.
The success of a Christian mission, he said, is not so much about the space Christians occupy, “but rather by our capacity to generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion.”
Moving from ideals and principles to concrete examples, Pope Francis met March 30 with Muslim men and women studying to be prayer leaders and preachers and with dozens of migrants assisted by Caritas.
A religious faith respectful of others and care for migrants were key themes in Pope Francis’ speech at his arrival ceremony in Rabat. After meeting privately, Pope Francis and King Mohammed VI went on to the school the king founded to counter violent strains of Islam by training imams and “murshid,” men and women preachers and spiritual guides.
And the pope ended his day at the Rabat Caritas center for migrants, a facility providing special care to women, unaccompanied minors and others among the most vulnerable of the estimated 80,000 migrants currently in Morocco.