Pope Francis on Sunday warned Catholics in Morocco against trying to convert others to boost their small numbers, during a rare visit by a pontiff to the North African country.
Speaking in Rabat’s cathedral on his second day in the Moroccan capital, Francis insisted trying to convert people to one’s own belief “always leads to an impasse”.
“Please, no proselytism!” he told an audience of around 400, who greeted the pope’s arrival by ululating and applauding, while hundreds more gathered outside the cathedral.
Christians are a tiny minority in Morocco where 99 percent of the population is Muslim, with sub-Saharan Africans making up a large part of the country’s 30,000-strong Catholic community.
Islam is the state religion and authorities are keen to stress the country’s “religious tolerance” which allows Christians and Jews to worship freely.
But Moroccans are automatically considered Muslim if they are not born into the Jewish community, apostasy is socially frowned upon, and proselytising is criminalised.
“I protect Moroccan Jews as well as Christians from other countries, who are living in Morocco,” King Mohammed VI told crowds on Saturday, following the pontiff’s arrival.
There are a few thousand Christian converts in Morocco, who since 2017 have called openly for the right to live “without persecution” and “without discrimination”.
Francis is the first pontiff to visit the North African country since John Paul II in 1985 and the cathedral had been repainted for the occasion.
Waiting for the pope outside, a Nigerian man said the visit “shows that living together is possible in Morocco.”
But “there are things to improve, notably the question of migrants and that of Moroccan Christians,” said 36-year-old Antoine, who works for an association to defend migrant rights.
The need to support migrants was mentioned again Sunday by Francis, who has made the issue a focal point of his papacy.
On Saturday he visited migrants at a Caritas charity centre, where the pope criticised “collective expulsions” and said ways for migrants to regularise their status should be encouraged.
Morocco says it has a “humanistic” approach to migration and rejects allegations by rights groups of “brutal arrest campaigns” and “forced displacement” to the country’s southern border.
– Jerusalem declaration -Earlier on Sunday, Francis visited a social centre run by nuns and volunteers near Rabat, including a health centre where he met with unwell children.
The previous day he visited an institute which hosts around 1,300 trainee imams and preachers.
There they heard from a French and a Nigerian student of the institute, which teaches “moderate Islam” and is backed by the king.
The Moroccan monarch also welcomed Francis to the royal palace, where the two addressed the “sacred character of Jerusalem” in a joint declaration.
The city should be a “symbol of peaceful coexistence” for Christians, Jews and Muslims, they said in a statement released by the Vatican.
“The specific multi-religious character, the spiritual dimension and the particular cultural identity of Jerusalem… must be protected and promoted,” said the text, which was jointly signed at Rabat’s royal palace.
The Moroccan king chairs a committee created by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to safeguard and restore Jerusalem’s religious, cultural and architectural heritage.
Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel sees the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
US President Donald Trump sparked anger across the Muslim world when he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.
Namibia plans to auction wild animals to raise money for conservation
An agriculture ministry report said 63,700 animals died in 2018 because of deteriorating grazing conditions brought on by dry weather
Namibia has authorised the sale of at least 1,000 wild animals – including elephants and giraffes – to generate $1.1 million for conservation.
“Given that this year is a drought year, the [environment] ministry would like to sell various type of game species from various protected areas to protect grazing and at the same time to also generate much needed funding for parks and wildlife management,” environment ministry spokesman Romeo Muyunda told AFP.
The authorities declared a national disaster last month, and the meteorological services in the country estimate that some parts of the country faced the deadliest drought in as many as 90 years.
“The grazing condition in most of our parks is extremely poor and if we do not reduce the number of animals, this will lead to loss of an animals due to starvation,” Muyunda said.
In April, an agriculture ministry report said 63,700 animals died in 2018 because of deteriorating grazing conditions brought on by dry weather.
Namibia’s cabinet announced this week that the government would sell about 1,000 wild animals.
They include 600 disease-free buffalos, 150 springbok, 65 oryx, 60 giraffes, 35 eland, 28 elephants 20 impala and 16 kudus — all from national parks.
The aim is to raise $1.1 million that will go towards a state-owned Game Products Trust Fund for wildlife conservation and parks management.
The government said there were currently about 960 buffalos in its national parks, 2,000 springbok, 780 oryx and 6,400 elephants.
The auction was advertised in local newspapers from Friday.
Militant group kill nine civilians in Somalia
The victims were rounded up from the streets or their homes and then shot dead on the outskirts of Galkayo
Nine civilians were executed by a local militia in Somalia after the killing of a policeman by the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab, police said Saturday.
The revenge attack on Friday just outside Galkayo – one of the most developed cities in the centre of the country – targeted the Rahanweyn clan, several of whose members are suspected of being Shabaab fighters.
“This was a horrible incident, a gruesome killing against nine unarmed innocent civilians in southern Galkayo. All of the civilians belong to one clan and the gunmen shot them dead in one location a few minutes after suspected Shabaab gunmen killed” a policeman, Mohamed Abdirahman, a local police official said.
“This is an unacceptable act and we will bring those perpetrators to justice,” said Hussein Dini, a traditional elder.
“Their killing cannot be justified. It seems that the merciless gunmen were retaliating for the security official who they believe was killed by Al-Shabaab gunmen belonging to the clan of the victims.”
Witnesses told local media that the victims were rounded up from the streets or their homes and then shot dead on the outskirts of Galkayo.
Local officials have in the past fingered the Rahanweyn clan for fomenting instability in the region and supplying fighters to the Shabaab.
The local militia which staged the revenge attack are from the Saad Habargidir, a sub-clan of the Hawiye group which is dominant in the southern part of the city.
Galkayo, situated about 600 kilometres (380 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu, straddles the frontier with the self-proclaimed autonomous regions of Puntland and Galmudug.
The city has been the scene of violent clashes between forces of the two regions in recent years and also witnessed violence between the two rival clans occupying its northern and southern districts.
Malawi’s gay community – a tale of fear and stigma
Most Malawians are Christian or Muslim, with religious education that often describes homosexuality as taboo or a sin.
Fearing persecution after being outed as gay, Adil fled Malawi.
Leaving behind his well-off Muslim family and four-year-old son, he headed for South Africa, where he became a sex worker to survive.
“The laws that we have in Malawi are incriminating. I wanted to get away from here. I had to take my chances,” the 29-year-old told AFP. His full name is withheld for fear of homophobic retribution.
For two years Adil laboured as a male sex worker in the tough streets of downtown Johannesburg, eventually returning home.
His case highlights the problems in Malawi, a holdout in southern Africa where legal liberalisation for gays is otherwise gaining speed.
Botswana this week joined Angola, Mozambique, Seychelles and South Africa on the path towards decriminalising homosexuality, with a verdict by its High Court to scrap decades-old anti-gay laws.
These landmark cases “set an important framework… which will hopefully be emulated elsewhere in Africa,” Anneke Meerkotter of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) told AFP.
But “hopefully” is the key word. Elsewhere on the continent, the picture is quite different.
Last month, Kenya’s High Court upheld laws punishing “carnal knowledge… against the order of nature” by up to 14 years in jail. Chad and Uganda have also introduced or toughened legislation.
In Malawi, a conservative religious country, the situation seems particularly entrenched, say campaigners.
Its penal code expressly criminalises same-sex relations as an “unnatural offence”, punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) last October said Malawi’s laws fuelled a climate of fear, arbitrary arrest, violence and discrimination against gays. Many young people, like Adil, are cast out of their families because of their sexual orientation.
Gay rights burst into the news in 2010 when a couple was jailed for gross indecency after holding the country’s first same-sex public “wedding”.
Then president Bingu wa Mutharika said the pair had committed a crime against Malawi’s culture, religion and laws. He later pardoned them on “humanitarian grounds” after a meeting with the UN secretary general.
When Joyce Banda succeeded him as president in 2012, she promised widespread reforms to the colonial-era legislation and even announced a moratorium on arrests for those breaking laws that criminalise consensual same-sex conduct.
But after Banda lost a 2014 bid to stay on as president, these gains were reversed, say campaigners.
Under Bingu wa’s brother Peter Mutharika, who recently won his second presidential term in office, “this group of people have just tended to be ignored,” gender activist Beatrice Mateyo said.
Activists have been waiting since 2013 for the courts to set a date for a hearing to repeal the anti-gay laws.
“Malawi has several court cases that are lying in the courts and we hope the case scenario of Botswana is also going to inform the legal processes here in Malawi,” Gift Trapence, head of Malawian rights group Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) told AFP.
Mateyo believes religious conservatism has played a core part in perpetuating stereotypes and anti-gay hostility.
Most of the 18 million people in Malawi are Christian or Muslim, whose religious education often describes homosexuality as taboo or a sin.
In 2016, about 3,000 Christians marched through Blantyre and Lilongwe, carrying signs saying “Homosexuality is abomination”.
“We are seen as a God-fearing nation, so society tends to skew towards religion where you are seen as a sinner… And if you are of a different sexuality then you are perceived as a sinner,” Mateyo said.
People who are not heterosexual, “will rather remain in the closet — hidden.”
“For the very few people that are open, life is very difficult because people tend to label them.”
‘Just want to be safe’
Twenty-eight-year-old Sarah, a lesbian who is also intersex, meaning there is no self-assignment to gender, said everyday tasks in Malawi were like walking on eggshells.
“I’m scared of being attacked, even in public spaces,” said Sarah. “You go to the bank, they look at your ID… you have to prove that you’re this particular sex that was assigned to you at birth.”
Sarah has a three-month-old relationship with a local woman but said, “I cannot take her to the local market to buy vegetables because that’s going to start another issue.”
CEDP, working with activists, set up four drop-in centres in Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu and Mangochi in 2016.
Equipped with a recreation room, gym, large kitchen, medical centre and 24-hour security, the centres support around 2,000 people.
“When we are here, we know each other,” a 27 year-old carpenter who declined to be named told AFP at the centre, his partner seated next to him.
Once a week, he walks 30 kilometres (20 miles) to the Lilongwe drop-in house to collect condoms, thus escaping condemnation by people in his neighbourhood.
Adil returned to Malawi after contracting HIV in South Africa. He was unable to stay there because as an illegal, he had no access to treatment.
The centre has been a haven of hope in Malawi, he said.
“In this space you can wear whatever you want, you can feel any way you want because this is the only safe space that you have.”
“But out there it is hard.”
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