Friday, February 23, 2007

Ash Wednesday in Morocco

Among Muslim countries, Morocco is about as secular as it gets. Islam is the religion of the king, and therefore of the state, as well as the faith of 99% of the population, but belief is not mandated. Fridays remain work days while Sundays the shops all close, and both Christian and Jewish communities live in relative peace (though woe be to him who proselytizes; I do know of a man arrested for distributing Bibles). Still, I am an obvious minority, and those few other Christians in Fez are not Moroccans but rather imports like myself.

Despite this odd climate, I have been attending regular services at a Catholic church near the center, amused to have found the St. Francis Parish on the Avenue Mohammed es-Slaoui. The priest is Italian, the mass is in French, and the first two pews belong to a group of elderly European ladies who often wear their fur coats on cold mornings. Behind them and surrounding them is a young congregation arrived from all over sub-Saharan Africa: Côte d'Ivoire, Chad, Rwanda, Sénégal... the continent is well represented and many are taking catechism because they come from as many Protestant denominations as they do countries.

My small group of Americans take up a rear pew, all the better for enjoying the spectacle. A choir sings hymns in French and Latin but with tunes I've never known and rich tropical harmonies. Even a rendition of "All Glory, Laud and Honor" took on new rhythm such that I didn't recognize it until the third verse. The old priest offers meandering homilies on the church as a boat and an Ash Wednesday meditation on imagining one's own funeral in order to better value our purpose during Lent.

Nonetheless, the passing of the peace is warm and authentic, and the sense of communion is all the more valuable in a place where we are few. I had been prepared to spend my time in Morocco isolated in faith, but instead I have found a community in a church I don't usually claim. I don't plan to convert to Islam, but for now I don't mind pretending to be Catholic.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I only went to one French mass when i went o France, but I found it fairly easy to follow after years of English mass (aside from the sermon, of course; I had no real choice but to smile and nod there).

--Sean

Anonymous said...

and you've gone Catholic before...

...and speaking of understanding french mass, I found it cute when the little french girl I was attending with at MY first french mass turned to me during Communion and asked me if I understood what was going on...she was concerned because of the language, but she picked the one part that any churchgoer was bound to understand!

Sarah

Kyle said...

Is the man you have in mind who went to jail for distributing Bibles Zaki's brother?

KEP said...

Yeah, that's the story I was remembering...

Kyle said...

That was under the previous king. Human rights violations were much more commonplace then. Do you get the impression living there that this could happen in the current circumstances?

KEP said...

Do I believe that such a ban still exists? Probably so. Can I imagine it being enforced? Likely not - as much as Moroccans would disapprove of such missionaries, they're building a tourism economy and couldn't afford the negative international PR such a response would provoke. It's why such similar evils as alcohol and dance clubs are warily tolerated as well.