Pope Francis begins two-day visit to Morocco, to hold mass on Sunday

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Rabat, March 31 (IANS) Pope Francis has arrived here in Morocco’s capital to begin a two-day symbolic visit almost 33 years after a similar trip made by Pope John Paul II in 1985 to the Maghreb country.

Upon his arrival on Saturday, the Pope was received by King Mohamed VI who was accompanied by his son, Crown Prince Moulay Hassan, and the monarch’s brother, Prince Moulay Rachid, Efe news reported.

Mohamed VI and Francis exchanged a few words before heading to the airport lounge where the pontiff was offered the traditional welcome of milk and dates.

Afterwards, Mohamed VI and Francis went to the minaret of the emblematic Hassan Tower, where both of them are to give speeches on a rainy day.

To get from the airport to the minaret, Francis travelled on board a specially-designed “popemobile” while Mohamed VI took a convertible limousine. Along the route, citizens turned out to wave and watch, accompanied by various musical groups.

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Meanwhile, thousands of people gathered for hours near the minaret, waiting for the arrival of both the Pope and the king, who were greeted by a unit of the Moroccan Royal Guard.

The Pope’s visit has raised great expectations among Moroccan citizens who have highlighted the “blessing,” or “baraka” in Arabic, that the pontiff has brought to the country, as his visit coincided with the first rainy day of the year in the Maghreb country.

Rabat, which has seen unprecedented preparations during the past two days in the build up to the arrival of the pontiff, is currently occupied by thousands of people who have arrived on board hundreds of buses that occupied several neighbourhoods.

A massive police deployment has also been observed in numerous avenues of the capital that has been adorned with the flags of both Morocco and the Vatican.

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The two-day visit of Pope Francis to Morocco has the objective of strengthening ties with Islam and to show its closeness to the small Catholic community of about 25,000 people in the African nation.

The Pope is expected to deliver mass at a stadium in Rabat on Sunday.

–IANS

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