ROME – On Tuesday the Vatican laid to rest months of rumor and speculation over a possible papal visit to Morocco, announcing that Pope Francis will travel to the North African nation in March of next year.
While the buzz over the past few months has been whether the pope would visit Marrakesh for the Dec. 10-11 United Nations Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the Vatican’s Nov. 13 announcement confirms that Francis will not be present for the meeting.
Instead, “welcoming the invitation of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, and of the bishops,” Francis will travel to Morocco for an overnight March 30-31 visit, stopping in the cities of Rabat and Casablanca.
The pope’s decision not to travel to the country for the U.N. conference might come as a surprise to some, given the Vatican’s longstanding support of the global compacts for migration and refugees.
Since the U.N. general assembly in September 2016 voted to draw up the compacts, the pope has been outspoken in calling on government leaders to adopt the measures in the four-step process of welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees in their host countries.
In comments to Crux, Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary for the migrants and refugees section of the Vatican department for Integral Human Development, said the measure for migration “is a new frame of reference for developing political proposals and implementing concrete measures.”
“It is meant to make migration safer, more regular and more secure, not only from the viewpoint of States, but also for the benefit of vulnerable people on the move,” he said, adding that “it will do so, if well-implemented.”
This implementation requires that the best-efforts and close collaboration of “all the actors” be put forward, he said, quoting Francis. And among these actors, “you can be sure, the Church will always be found.”
Czerny said the Holy See’s delegation in Morocco, despite the absence of the pope, “will make the Holy Father’s and the whole Church’s commitment very clear.” Given his role in overseeing the migrants and refugees office, which is overseen by Francis directly, Czerny will likely also be on the ground in Marrakesh.
“As a sign of shared global responsibility,” he said, “concrete engagement [must] follow from the words already codified” in the global compact for migration.
Francis’s visit to Morocco will mark the second time a pope has traveled to the nation. Pope Saint John Paul II went in 1985 at the invitation of the late King Hassan II as an occasion to strengthen Muslim-Christians relations.
No details have been released on the pope’s schedule, although the Vatican said an official program will be released shortly.
Christopher White reported from New York.