Pope John Paul II visited Morocco in response to an invitation extended by the King of Morocco, King Hassan II. King Hassan invited him, in the year dedicated by the UN to young people, to address the young people of Morocco:
"Your Holiness, yours is not only a religious responsibility but an educational and moral one as well. I am certain that tens of thousands of Moroccans, especially the youth, would be most happy if you spoke to them about moral standards and relationships affecting individuals, communities, nations, and religions".These words of King Hassan are taken from George Weigel's Witness to Hope, citing the weekly English edition of the Osservatore Romano of 9th September 1985.
What makes this meeting between the Pope and Moslem youth such a milestone?
I often meet young people, usually Catholics. It is the first time that I find myself with young Muslims.That this first encounter with Moslem youth took place at the invitation of the ruler of an Islamic country is, particularly in the light of events that have taken place since 1985, prophetic. This is a first way in which the encounter in Casablanca is a milestone.
A second way is the manner in which Pope John Paul II approached his address. The fifth and sixth paragraphs express his purpose in what he said (English translation slightly adapted to bring it closer to the French original):
For my part, in the Catholic Church, I bear the responsibility of the successor of Peter, the Apostle chosen by Jesus to strengthen his brothers in the faith. Following the Popes who succeeded one another uninterruptedly in the passage of history, I am today the Bishop of Rome, called to be, among his brethren in the world, the witness of the faith and the guarantee of the unity of all the members of the Church.There is herein a useful defining and practice of inter-religious dialogue. Pope John Paul II starts from his own position within the Catholic Church, and indicates that he is going to offer a witness to his own belief on the grounds that that reflects what he wishes for others and what is useful for all.
Also, it is as a believer that I come to you today. It is quite simply that I would like to give here today the witness of that which I believe, of that which I wish for the well-being of the people, my brothers in mankind, and of that which, from experience, I consider to be useful for all.
And, thirdly, towards the end of his address, Pope John Paul II spoke of what is shared between Moslems and Christians - and of the differences between them. The attitude that the Holy Father suggests to these similarities and differences reflects something that is strongly present in the experience of Christian de Cherge. It is the mystery of how, from a Christian point of view, a religion such as Islam can be understood in relation to the saving design of God as manifested in the work of Jesus Christ and the Church. This is something that the Church has still to fully work out, and Christian de Cherge looked forward to how he might discover this in the future life.
I believe that we, Christians and Muslims, must recognize with joy the religious values that we have in common, and give thanks to God for them. Both of us believe in one God the only God, who is all Justice and all Mercy; we believe in the importance of prayer, of fasting, of almsgiving, of repentance and of pardon; we believe that God will be a merciful judge to us at the end of time, and we hope that after the resurrection he will be satisfied with us and we know that we will be satisfied with him.A last thought. As I read the text of this address for the first time, now during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, it felt as if I was reading something that was written by Pope Benedict rather than by John Paul II. This is perhaps an indicator of the continuity between the two Popes.
Loyalty demands also that we should recognize and respect our differences. Obviously the most fundamental is the view that we hold on the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. You know that, for the Christians, this Jesus causes them to enter into an intimate knowledge of the mystery of God and into a filial communion by his gifts, so that they recognize him and proclaim him Lord and Saviour.
Those are important differences, which we can accept with humility and respect, in mutual tolerance; there is a mystery there on which, I am certain, God will one day enlighten us.