Pope Francis heads to Morocco on Saturday for his second visit in less than two months to a mostly Muslim country amid warming ties with the Islamic world.
The Argentine pontiff became the first pope to set foot on the Arabian Peninsula in February when he visited the United Arab Emirates, and signed a document aimed at boosting links between Muslims and Catholics.
After his arrival in the Moroccan capital Rabat, Francis will visit an institute for training Muslim preachers as part of the North African country’s efforts to promote moderate Islam.
Later Saturday, the pontiff is set to meet migrants at a Rabat-based centre run by a Catholic charity.
In recent years, Morocco has emerged as a gateway for thousands of Africans seeking to reach Europe via neighbouring Spain.
On Sunday, Francis is to meet with local priests and lead a Mass at a Rabat stadium. The Vatican estimates that there are around 23,000 Catholics in Muslim-majority Morocco.
“I come as a pilgrim of peace and fraternity, in a world that greatly needs it,” Francis said in a video message addressing Moroccans ahead of the two-day visit.
“This journey also offers me the invaluable occasion to visit the Christian community in Morocco and to encourage its progress,” he added.
Francis described migrants as representing an “appeal to build together a more just and fraternal world.”
Some local clerics have voiced concerns about the situation of an estimated 100,000 migrants in Morocco.
“My biggest worries are concerning the rights of migrants,” Santiago Martinez, the archbishop of Tanger in northern Morocco, said at a news conference earlier this month.
“Sometimes we lose hope and I hope that the papal visit will bring some development,” he added.
The papal trip will be the first by a pontiff to Morocco since then pope John Paul’s visit in 1985.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has espoused religious tolerance, and called for more dialogue between Muslims and Catholics.