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Spread mercy, fraternity have the courage to encounter others pope urges

RABAT (CNS): “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,” Pope Francis told Morocco’s small Catholic community during the closing Mass of his March 30 to 31 visit held at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium. 
 
He praised them for the many ways they “bear witness to the gospel of mercy in this land.”
 
The pope honoured the way that Catholics, although much less than one percenta of the population, reach out to help their Muslim brothers and sisters and the thousands of migrants who pass through, hoping to reach Europe.
 
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 focused almost entirely on the day’s gospel reading, which was the story of the prodigal son.
 
Pope Francis drew special attention on the elder son in the story. 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.”
 
He noted that it is the same as 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?”
 
The pope 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.
 
“Let us not fall into the temptation of reducing the fact that we are his children to a question of rules and regulations, duties and observances,” Pope Francis said.
 
“The Christian knows that in the Father’s house there are many rooms: the only ones who remain outside are those who choose not to share in his joy,” the pope said.
 
Upon his arrival in Morocco the previous day, Pope Francis was greeted by King Mohammed VI, who in a sign of great honour, rode alongside the pope in his limousine to the Hassan Tower, the 12th century minaret that is a symbol of the city.
 
With thousands of people gathered on the esplanade in front of the tower, which sits where the Bouregreg Rivers meets the Atlantic Ocean, the pope and the king spoke of peace, tolerance, respect and religious freedom in a country where 99 per cent of the people are Muslim, but tens of thousands of Christian students and migrants live temporarily.
 
The king, who is constitutionally commander of the faithful, told Pope Francis that the role includes being “guarantor of the free practice of religion” for Muslims, Christians and Jews.
 
King Mohammed said, “The three Abrahamic religions were not created to be tolerant of one another out of some unavoidable fate or out of courtesy to one another. The reason they exist is to open up to one another and to know one another, so as to do one another good.”
 
The king, who has devoted energy and resources to training imams and other leaders and to fighting fundamentalist forms of Islam, told the pope, “What all terrorists have in common is not religion, but rather ignorance of religion.”
 
He said, “…because religion is peace, it calls for diverting the energy spent on weapons” to other, “loftier pursuits.” 
 
Pope Francis called his visit an occasion to promote interreligious dialogue as part of the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the meeting of St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in Egypt, during the Crusades.
 
The pope said that meeting “shows that the courage to encounter one another and extend a hand of friendship is a pathway of peace and harmony for humanity, whereas extremism and hatred cause division and destruction.”
 
The pope noted that too often mutual lack of knowledge of and friendship has been “exploited as a cause for conflict and division.”
 
Pope Francis said that respect for life and for all God’s gifts also implies respect for creation and caring for the poor and for migrants, and that Christians and Muslims can and should work together to protect the planet and assist those in need.
 
He also urged further steps in Muslim-majority countries to progress beyond seeing Christians and Jews—”people of the book”—as minorities to protect and instead recognise them as full citizens with equal rights and obligations.
 
Pope Francis and King Mohammed also pleaded for international recognition of “the unique and sacred character of Jerusalem.”
 
In a joint declaration signed at the royal palace in Rabat on March 30, they expressed deep concern for the city’s “spiritual significance and its special vocation as a city of peace.”
 
The two said it was important to preserve the city “as the common patrimony of humanity and especially the followers of the three monotheistic religions, as a place of encounter and as a symbol of peaceful coexistence, where mutual respect and dialogue can be cultivated.”
 
They said, “It is our hope, therefore, that in the holy city, full freedom of access to the followers of the three monotheistic religions and their right to worship will be guaranteed, so that in Jerusalem, Al-Quds Acharif, they may raise their prayers to God, the creator of all, for a future of peace and fraternity on the earth.”

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