Pope Francis has joined Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in saying Jerusalem should be a “symbol of peaceful coexistence” for Christians, Jews and Muslims on the first day of a visit to the North African country.
The spiritual leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics was invited by King Mohammed VI for the sake of “inter-religious dialogue”, according to Moroccan authorities.
He celebrated mass at a Rabat stadium with an estimated 10,000 people attending as well as visiting a church-run social services centre and meeting with Catholic priests and other Christian representatives.
In a joint statement, the two leaders said Jerusalem was “common patrimony of humanity and especially the followers of the three monotheistic religions”.
“The specific multi-religious character, the spiritual dimension and the particular cultural identity of Jerusalem… must be protected and promoted,” they said in the declaration released by the Vatican as the pontiff visited Rabat.
The Moroccan king chairs a committee created by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to safeguard and restore Jerusalem’s religious, cultural and architectural heritage.
The joint statement came after US President Donald Trump’s landmark recognition of the disputed city as the capital of Israel, which sparked anger across the Muslim world, especially from Palestinians who see Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Improving relations with other religions has been a priority for the Argentine pontiff, whose papacy has been marred by clergy facing a wave of child sex abuse allegations.
Addressing thousands of Moroccans who braved the rain to attend the welcome ceremony, Francis said it was “essential to oppose fanaticism”.
He stressed the need for “appropriate preparation of future religious guides” before meeting trainee imams later on Saturday.
Catholics are a tiny minority in Morocco, where 99 percent of the population is Muslim. The king is revered across West Africa as “commander of the faithful”.
Speaking at the ceremony at the Tour Hassan (or Hassan Tower) mosque and nearby mausoleum in Rabat, the monarch also voiced opposition to “radicalism”.
“That which terrorists have in common is not religion, it’s precisely the ignorance of religion. It’s time that religion is no longer an alibi… for this ignorance, for this intolerance,” he said.