Pope calls on Moroccans to fight fanaticism

Maria Concetta Esu kissing the hand of Pope Francis on Wednesday. Source GettyMore

Maria Concetta Esu kissing the hand of Pope Francis on Wednesday. Source GettyMore

The Moroccan capital has stepped up security ahead of the first papal visit to the North African country since John Paul II in 1985.

Live television pictures showed the man was restrained by security officials moments before he reached an open-top vehicle carrying the king.

It's a message that Francis is expected to repeat later in the day when he meets migrants at a center run by the Catholic Church's Caritas charity.

Francis was joined at the welcome ceremony by Moroccan King Mohammed VI, who has been working to spread a moderate form of Islam that promotes inter-religious dialogue and rejects any form of terrorism or violence in God's name.

Morocco has sought to become a voice of moderate Islam in the Muslim world.

Pope Francis sits by King Mohamed VI at the diocesan Caritas centre in Rabat, Morocco.

The appeal was released in the midst of the pope's two-day visit to Morocco and asserts the two leaders' concern for "the unique and sacred character of Jerusalem / Al-Quds Acharif" as well as "its spiritual significance and its special vocation as a city of peace".

"It's a very significant event, the first time that a pope is welcomed to an institute for the training of imams", said Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti.

A concert drawing inspiration from Islam, Christianity and Judaism is also on the agenda.

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The weekend visit follows Francis' February trip to the United Arab Emirates, where the pope and the imam of Cairo's Al Azhar, the seat of Sunni learning, signed a landmark joint statement establishing the relationship between Catholics and Muslims as brothers, with a common mission to promote peace.

Francis will not hesitate to refer to the text, which from now on he will give to all heads of state, Gisotti said.

Morocco, which is almost 100 percent Muslim, has marketed itself as an oasis of religious tolerance in a region torn by militancy.

But Moroccans are automatically considered Muslim if they are not born into the Jewish community, apostasy is socially frowned upon, and proselytising is a criminal offence.

Around 30,000 to 35,000 Catholics live in Morocco, many of them from sub-Saharan Africa.

Pope Francis landed in Morocco Saturday for a trip aimed at highlighting the North African nation's Christian-Muslim ties, while also showing solidarity with migrants at Europe's door and tending to a tiny Catholic flock.

The number of people taking the sea route from Morocco to Spain has recently surged as it has become harder for them to pass through Libya.

Francis, who has made defence of migrants and refugees a key part of his preaching, said he was concerned about their "frequently grim fate" and receiving countries must acknowledge that migrants are forced to leave their homes because of poverty and political upheaval.

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