Pope Francis told the tiny Catholic community in predominantly Muslim Morocco on Sunday that their mission was not to covert their neighbours but to live in brotherhood with other faiths.
Francis has used his two-day trip to stress inter-faith dialogue. He has also backed Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s efforts to spread a form of Islam that promotes inter-religious dialogue and rejects violence in God’s name.
Morocco’s 23,000 Roman Catholics— most of them French and other European expatriates and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa— make up less than one percent of the population of 35 million.
“Christians are a small minority in this country. Yet, to my mind, this is not a problem, even though I realise that at times it can be difficult for some of you,” he said at a meeting with Catholic community leaders in Rabat’s cathedral.
Conservative Catholics have criticised the pope’s opposition to organised or aggressive recruiting of potential converts.
“The Church grows not through proselytism but by attraction,” Francis said to applause.
“This means, dear friends, that our mission as baptized persons, priests and consecrated men and women, is not really determined by the number or size of spaces that we occupy, but rather by our capacity to generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion,” he said.
Moroccan authorities do not recognise Moroccan converts to Christianity, many of whom worship secretly in homes. Conversion from Islam to Christianity is banned, as it is in many Muslim countries, and proselytising is punishable by up to three years in prison.
“The problem is not when we are few in number, but when we are insignificant,” Francis said, adding that Catholics were called to be an integral part of inter-religious dialogue in a world “torn apart by the policies of extremism and division”.
At a Mass for about 10,000 Catholics in a sports arena before he was due to return to Rome, the Pope also stressed the need for inter-religious dialogue, saying people should resist “classifying ourselves according to different moral, social, ethnic or religious criteria”.
On Saturday, Francis and King Mohammed VI visited an institute the monarch founded to train imams and male and female preachers of Islam.