Rabat, Morocco (CBS NEWS)- 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.
Moroccan King Mohammed VI was on hand to greet Francis when he arrived amid pouring rain in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.
“Dear Moroccan friends, I am coming as a pilgrim of peace and fraternity,” Francis wrote Friday on Twitter. “We Christians and Muslims believe in God, the Creator and the Merciful, who created people to live like brothers and sisters, respecting each other in their diversity, and helping one another in their needs.”
The highlight of the trip is likely to be Francis’ visit Saturday to the Mohammed VI Institute, a school of learning for imams that epitomizes Morocco’s efforts to promote a moderate brand of Islam and export it via preachers to Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
Francis will also visit a migrant center run by the Caritas charity organization and will wrap up his trip Sunday with a Mass and a meeting with Moroccan clergy.
Muslims, Christians and Jews have long lived peacefully in Morocco, even though Catholics are a tiny minority of about 23,000 in the Sunni Muslim kingdom of 36 million.
“As Christians and Muslims, we believe in God the creator and merciful one, who has created men and women and placed them on earth so that they might live together as brothers and sisters, respecting each other’s diversity and helping each other in their need,” Francis said in a video message to Moroccans released on the eve of the trip.
He is travelling to Morocco 34 years after St. John Paul II became the first pope to visit the country.
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. The “Human Fraternity” document outlines a shared set of values and principles common to Christians and Muslims, focusing on the dignity of every person and rejecting violence committed in God’s name.