AFRICA/MAROCCO - A bell tower next to a minaret: Marrakech, workshop of fraternity

Monday, 30 October 2023


Marrakech (Agenzia Fides) - "Imam, rabbi, Franciscan, Muslim and Christian friends, all gathered in moments of sharing about peace, prayer and long silences: moments full of responsibility. And mystery..." This is the description shared by Father Renato Zilio, of the meeting that took place on October 27, on the occasion of the day dedicated to 'The Spirit of Assisi', organized by Brother Fabio of the Franciscan Community of the Parish of the Holy Martyrs in Marrakech.
"We all met in simplicity under a pergola in the Franciscan garden, next to the church," says Fr Renato Zilio, a Scalabrinian Missionary, on a visit to Marrakech, where he touched on the ordinary life and activities of the Franciscan community and the parish.
"Marrakech is not only the superb 12th-century Kutubiyya mosque, nor the captivating charm of the Majorelle garden, nor the legendaryl Jemaa el-Fnaa square with all its fantastic animation," Fr Zilio recounts, "it is also the story of a bell tower next to a minaret. One in front of the other, looking at each other like old friends, because only a road separates them... Two places of worship as different and as close as the communities of believers they bring together. The voice of the muezzin often enters the church with force, interweaving its melismas with the psalms and prayers of the faithful. It seems like a miracle today. It even seems that in the city's plans there will be a synagogue here. A real surprise from God in this land of Islam that supports, according to the king's vision, the understanding of the three religions."

The missionary, a guest in Rabat for a sabbatical period, describes well the Christian place where the recent meeting in Marrakech took place. "It is the Church of the Holy Martyrs, in memory of five Umbrian Franciscans who were passionate about converting Muslims at all costs. That was in the time of St Francis. Paradoxically, today, it is four Franciscans who have converted. Yes, to the love of this land of Islam and its inhabitants: a surprising change in history. So the church kindly welcomes all visitors: Christians and Muslims, tourists, young sub-Saharan students and migrants. The parish Caritas cares for three different worlds. That of migrants and its emergencies, that of Muslims and their poverty, and that of the earthquake and its wounds".

Morocco was recently hit by a serious earthquake (see Fides, 12/9/2023) and the leaders of Caritas, the moqadem (responsible for the neighbourhood) and his assistants are together examining the new needs, planning the next steps for the coming winter. "Every Caritas project is carried out with the sensitivity and decisions of the village heads. 'Together' is the watchword of Caritas and this Franciscan community in Marrakech,' explains Fr Renato. Just a few days ago, a huge relief truck arrived at Caritas from France, sent by two imams from Strasbourg and their communities. "Incredible... - was the comment of the parish priest of the Church of the Holy Martyrs, Brother Manuel - the Muslims collect and Christians distribute. What trust!"

Father Zilio concludes by describing the women who, "under the tent, prepare meals together in a country kitchen, while next door a small radio broadcasts the chanting of the Koran all morning... The Koran chanted in Morocco can be heard everywhere, at the hairdresser, in the taxi.... "Do you hear the Gospel being sung in our house?" someone asks me, hinting at a half-smile,' writes the Scalabrinian."

The name 'The Spirit of Assisi' was outlined after the first major meeting with representatives of the world's various religions in Assisi, in the name of peace, announced on October 27, 1986 by Pope John Paul II. (MC/AP) (Agenzia Fides, 30/10/2023)