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More than 5,000 Moroccan Christians live their faith in the secrecy of their homes

Moroccans enjoy, according to the 2011 Constitution, freedom of conscience, but those who publicly embrace Christianity are unanimously rejected by society and their families. Proselytizing for any creed other than Sunni Islam is punishable by up to three years in prison. 

José Ángel Cadelo-May 12, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes
Moroccan Christians

Moroccan Christians

In Morocco, abandoning the official state religion is popularly considered a betrayal of the homeland and the people. Although in the Koran the name of Jesus appears twenty-five times as opposed to the only four times in which Mohammed is mentioned. There is no other form of marriage other than the Muslim rite and with the traditional clauses of Koranic origin. The Christian Moroccans living in their country must necessarily assume, when they marry, the particularities of the Islamic marriage concerning the dowry, repudiation, polygamy, inheritance...

Nor can they choose names from the Christian saints' calendar for their children, and no family can avoid official Islamic education, which is compulsory in all schools and at all levels. It is Said, secretly baptized as David, who refers to these circumstances: "The worst of all is the rejection and social stigma to which we are exposed; many of us have even lost our jobs.

The number of Moroccan Christians (Catholics, Orthodox and Evangelicals) within the country is Morocco can be as many as 8,000, according to a recent report by the U.S. State Department. All of them pray or celebrate sacraments secretly in their homes, in what they call "house churches".

The Church in Morocco

The Catholic Church has had a notable presence in Morocco since the time of the protectorate, but its field of pastoral action is limited, by local law, to foreigners. In Morocco there are two dioceses currently headed by two Spanish archbishops: Cardinal Cristóbal López Romero, a Salesian, at the head of the archbishopric of Rabat, and Emilio Rocha Grande, a Franciscan, recently consecrated as archbishop of Tangier.

There is a Nunciature and numerous religious orders attending to dispensaries, soup kitchens, orphanages, homes for street children, homes for the handicapped and centers for the promotion of women throughout the country. Franciscans of different orders, Vincentians, Trinitarians, Salesians, contemplative Poor Clares and nuns of St. Teresa of Calcutta, among other religious institutes, run these centers where, by law, no apostolic or proselytizing work is carried out for Moroccans. "We are here to show the beauty of Christianity through charity", says a Franciscan from the White Crossfrom Tangier.

Announcing the Gospel to Moroccans or distributing any kind of bibliographical material is forbidden. Article 220 of the Moroccan Penal Code is very strict in this respect: it condemns to sentences of six months to three years (in Morocco these figures refer to actual years of imprisonment) anyone who "uses any means of seduction to break the faith of a Muslim or to try to convert him to another religion".

Religious freedom

Rabat has signed several international human rights treaties obliging it to respect freedom of religion and conscience for all, but the circumstances for these rights to be fully guaranteed have not yet been met.

Despite the fact that Pope Francis, during his visit to Rabat in 2019, appealed in a speech before thousands of people and Mohamed VI himself to freedom of conscience ("religious freedom and freedom of conscience are inseparably linked to human dignity," he said), the King of Morocco only specified in his response, "I have been entrusted with the protection of Moroccan Jews and foreign Christians living in Morocco."

To understand the special link between the Moroccan regime and Islam, it must be borne in mind that monarchs have always had a sacred character, although the new constitution of 2011 no longer explicitly proclaims this. The king is considered a descendant of the first caliphs and is "commander of the believers", i.e. religious leader for the Muslims of Morocco and for many other peoples of sub-Saharan Africa who recognize him as such.

Religious minorities

"Muslims in general are very respectful of foreign Christians but, at the same time, very hard on those of us who leave Islam, who are called traitors," says Hicham, a Christian and president of an association for the defense of rights and freedoms. Hicham explains that "Christians have to pray in secret, for fear of being accused of proselytizing, of breaking the faith of Muslims".

His association, which has not managed to be registered or legalized, led by Christians of various denominations, works for the recognition of the rights of all religious minorities, including Shiite, Ahmadi and Ibadi Muslims. Only Jews, in addition to Sunni Muslim Moroccans, enjoy real legal protection and have their status as a religious community recognized. Therefore, a Moroccan can only be a Sunni Muslim or a Jew.

Conversions abroad

Since Moroccans do not enter Christian temples (there are Catholic churches open and offering religious services to foreigners in all the major cities of Morocco) so as not to compromise themselves or their leaders, a significant percentage of conversions have taken place in the diaspora, especially in Spain and France. Not always, as Fatima, a Catholic of Moroccan origin living in Valencia, says, do these new Christians continue to practice their faith when they return to their country of origin: "The enormous legal and social difficulties overcome many of these newly baptized".

In Larache (Morocco) there is a socio-cultural center Lerchundi, under the parish of Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Many young Moroccans go there to take Spanish classes or attend the weekly film forum. But these young people never set foot in the adjoining church. The Franciscans, who landed in Morocco when Francis of Assisi was still alive (13th century), also attend to foreign Catholics (mostly Spanish and French) who are serving sentences in some of the two local prisons for hashish trafficking.

The work of religious orders

Catholic religious men and women accept the limitations imposed on their work in Morocco and understand that, only through works of charity directed at the most vulnerable Moroccans and through fruitful dialogue with the Muslims, they are already carrying out an important mission "whose tangible fruits will be seen by others", as the Franciscan of the Immaculate, Sister Isabel, said recently.

Among other objectives, Moroccan Christians aspire to be able to offer Christian funerals to the deceased of their community. In the meantime, they will have to publicly observe the Ramadan fast (article 222 of the Penal Code establishes penalties of 6 months imprisonment for those who drink or eat in public) and beware of being caught encouraging others to know Jesus as God and man (Islam venerates Jesus only as a "major prophet"). For the time being, Cameroonians, Nigerians or Ivorians traveling to Europe in search of a better life are beginning to fill the churches of Morocco, hitherto the exclusive territory of Europeans. This is no small thing.

The authorJosé Ángel Cadelo

José Ángel Cadelo

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