Morocco: The Church of silence

The Franciscan friars have been present for centuries in the north of Morocco. Students, migrants, prisoners are part of their pastoral activity. They are open to ecumenical dialogue. Father Angel Ruben Ramos Ceballos, the Parish Priest of Our Lady of Victories in Tetouan, talks to us.

Once upon a time in the city, there was a thriving Christian community, composed exclusively of Europeans. Proof of this is the large parish church in Tetouan, a city in the north of the country. However, little by little Europeans decreased in number and they are now just a small minority of the Christians living in the city.

About 12 years ago, Morocco opened the doors of its universities to students from sub-Saharan Africa, who began to arrive. For five years now, migrants have been making their appearance in Morocco. Mostly originating in sub-Saharan Africa, they try to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain or, even more directly, cross the border that separates Morocco from the two Spanish enclaves still present in African territory, Ceuta and Melilla. Migrants have become an inevitable reality for the local Church.

They can be seen arriving in waves in inland cities after they are driven across the borders by law enforcement. Some begin to settle with their wives and children in big cities. With no possessions, their minds occupied with the possibility of a passage elsewhere, they require charitable structures to be set up to assist them in the fields of health, education and simply to survive from day today.

We are engaged with the diocesan Caritas at their service. Accompanying people in transit always reveals a challenge for the one who is called to stay, because he must relentlessly resume his work from the beginning. This is therefore an integral part of the Moroccan reality, calling us to anchor ourselves more in what remains: Christ and Morocco.

At the moment, more than 80% of parishioners are Africans and just under 20% Europeans. Among other things, I am chaplain to a group of about thirty young sub-Saharans with whom we carry out a very intense ministry. We do retreats, we meet every Thursday to pray the Lectio Divina together and we try to keep in touch. For me, it is a deep experience of sharing and getting to know one another.

We also take pastoral care of the prison. There is a prison in the city where there are also a dozen Europeans. We, friars, have an ancient tradition of serving Christian prisoners. Today, it is mainly drug traffickers who are imprisoned in Morocco: young people trying their luck, migrants trying to earn some money to pass through to Europe and professional smugglers. We are the only ones who can enter the prison to visit them and ensure a bond with their families, helping them to practise their Christian faith in hostile surroundings.

In the parish, we help many Moroccan families with food and medicine. The coronavirus pandemic has created even more needy people. We also run a sewing school for Moroccan women, a youth cultural centre and a place of rest and support for immigrants.

We are open to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue with Islam and organize occasional meetings. The Moroccan people very often pronounce the name of God and submit to his will with an admirable and very genuine faith.

They are faithful in their prayers and one often sees them praying, even in the street. Immersed in a Muslim majority, we are led to weaving strong bonds of solidarity and brotherhood. Living in Morocco helps us to reveal a very generous Church dedicated to the good of others, a Church that gives without expecting anything in return, neither conversions nor gratitude of any kind.

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