Morocco and the “four levels” of inter-religious dialogue

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Cristobal Lopez Romero, Archbishop of Rabat

Morocco and the “four levels” of inter-religious dialogue

By Cristina Uguccioni/ lastampa.it

Stories of coexistence between Christians and Muslims. The quality of the relationships, the forms of collaboration between the faithful of the two religions according to the Archbishop of Rabat, Cristobal Lopez Romero, and Professor Rachid Makh Makh.

“Relations with Muslims in general are very good: we Christians are respected and looked upon with sympathy. We often share relationships of sincere friendship. There are however some people who are annoyed by our presence, but overall, we are happy with the quality of coexistence with Muslims. The authorities are also very attentive and friendly towards us”. With these words the Salesian Cristobal Lopez Romero, Archbishop of Rabat, begins his story: 66-year-old Spaniard, he exercised his ministry in Paraguay, Spain, Bolivia and Morocco where, from 2003 to 2010, he was parish priest in Kenitra and directed the local Salesian school. On 29 December 2017, he was chosen to lead the diocese of Rabat.

The King and the Minister
On the day of his entry into the diocese King Mohammed VI wanted to send his own representative, the local governor. Subsequently the archbishop was received “with extraordinary kindness” by the minister for religious affairs. In Morocco, a country where religion is held in high regard, this is one of the most important departments. “The minister - who always sends a loving letter of good wishes to Christians at Christmas and Easter - expressed his genuine desire to establish with me the same cordial and friendly relations that have bound him to my predecessor”, Father Lopez recounts. “The attention reserved by the King and the Minister are small but important signs that testify to the will expressed by the highest authorities of Morocco to maintain good relations with Christians”.

A small flock of foreigners
The Moroccans (37 million) are Sunni Muslims of Malachite rite, which the archbishop calls “very moderate”. The Catholics, all foreigners, represent a very small minority and are headed by two dioceses: that of Tangier, the smallest, and that of Rabat, whose territory is as large as Italy: 33 million people live there. In this diocese there are 15 parishes, 32 priests (of whom 17 are religious of different congregations and 14 are fidei donum), and a hundred religious. The Catholics, of about 100 nationalities, are 25/30 thousand, with an average age of 35 years: a very substantial group is made up of young people from sub-Saharan countries who come to Morocco to study: for them universities are free and they can also count on UNESCO scholarships. A second group, equally numerous, is represented by foreigners who work in diplomacy or businesses. Then there are the many migrants from the sub-Saharan countries who try to reach the European coasts and the women who married Moroccan Muslims. Every year many faithful (25-30%) leave the diocese and are replaced by others who come: “Our Church - the archbishop says - is in continuous change and renewal: in some ways this involves some difficulties, but undoubtedly we are a community that does not run the risk of laying back or closing down”.

Freedom of conscience
In this country Islam is the State religion: “The king has the title of “Commander of the faithful” and in this capacity, has the task of also protecting Christians and Jews”, explains Father Lopez. “We Christians can freely profess our faith and the traditional groups that characterize Catholic communities are present in our parishes. However, we have a limitation: public expression of the faith is prohibited: processions, for example, are only permitted in places of worship. Proselytizing is also prohibited. In the field of freedom of conscience something is moving, especially within intellectual circles. In theory, a Moroccan can freely choose his or her own religion, the law does not forbid them, yet society would probably make a void around them”.

The dialogue of life
In Morocco, there are no commissions dedicated specifically to inter-religious dialogue, yet a fruitful and lively dialogue with Muslims does exists. It develops on four levels, the archbishop emphasizes: “The first level, which I consider the most important and involves everyone, is what I call the “dialogue of life” that is “proximity”, the mutual understanding that binds Christian and Muslim people in daily life, I think for example of the solid friendships born in universities between sub-Saharan Christian students and their Muslim peers or the good relations that are established in the workplace”.

The schools
The second level concerns the many forms of collaboration that - through associations, schools, public and private institutions - are established between Christians and Muslims, committed to working side by side for human rights, the promotion of women, education, health, the fight against child labor. In the diocese of Rabat, for example, there are fifteen Catholic schools with 12,000 students and 800 teachers. The directors, Christians and Muslims, drew up an important educational project together: “Jesus is not explicitly mentioned but it is a profoundly evangelical document, and Muslims, for their part, consider it to be in compliance with their religion”, Father Lopez observes, who cites another example, that of Caritas, in which Christians and Muslims work peacefully together, recently in a project in support of migrants.

Sharing
The third level, the archbishop continues, is that represented by small groups of the faithful “who periodically meet to get to know each other, to share their respective paths of faith and to deepen their Christian and Muslim vision of life. It sometimes happens, in some places, that Christians and Muslims gather to pray together: this is the fourth level and involves a small number of people”.

The Muslim Friend
Among Father Lopez’s Islamic friends is Rachid Makh Makh: 52 years old, single, he lives in Kenitra, where he is the general supervisor of the local school “Don Bosco”, an institute in which he taught French and English: “I have been working here for 18 years and I like it very much”. Among the reasons he mentions: the presence of the Salesian Fathers who follow the students with great dedication, the fact that freedom of expression and personal initiative are guaranteed, the credibility of the Salesian educational system that has proved its worth and is appreciated by the whole educating community, the intention to offer students a complete education. Rachid describes his experience at the school as good and “edifying”, in which he learned “the sense of community, the family spirit and joy of work”.

Happy together
Speaking of the relationship between Christians and Muslims in school, he says: “Obviously there are cultural differences and we have different mentalities. After all, Christians and Muslims share common values. In our school, where the presence of the priest - a symbol of the spiritual energy and cohesion of the educating community - is fundamental, there is a spirit of collaboration and mutual understanding, esteem and respect. We complete one another. We all care about promoting universal moral values. Personally, I am pleased about the presence of Christians, which I consider crucial for the survival of the school. My relations with my Christian colleagues are based on morality, trust and professionalism. What bind us are true family spirit and genuine complicity. God has created us unique and different from each other but we have the ability and strength to work together. It is natural to have different visions: the important thing is to respect each other and not impose anything on the other. Belonging to a different religion does not prevent us from being happy together”.

A society open to dialogue
In Morocco, he explains, “there is a minority which is a little reluctant to the rapprochement between Christians and Muslims - I am referring to extremist fundamentalists (Muslim fanatics) - the majority of Muslims is very open to dialogue and to get to know the other”. Rachid concludes by saying that he is convinced that “authentically religious people (of different religions) who live and work together for the education of the younger generations, can teach the world that, whatever their religion or skin color, it is possible to work together, in harmony, bringing enrichment to the community”.

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 13:06
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