Morocco, The Catholic Church in
MOROCCO, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
An independent constitutional monarchy in northwest Africa, the Kingdom of Morocco (Al Mamlakah al Maghribiyah) has coasts on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. It is bordered on the north by Spain and the Mediterranean, on the east by Algeria, on the south by the Western Sahara territory and on the west by the North Atlantic. The region, which enjoys a Mediterranean climate at its coast, contains a mountainous northern coast and an interior that is frequented by earthquakes, falling thence to plateaus and coastal plains in the west. Natural resources include phosphates, iron ore, lead and manganese, while agricultural products consist of barley, wheat, citrus, olives and wine. Morocco has long benefited from its strategic position along the Strait of Gibraltar.
Under the control of France for many years, Morocco gained independence in 1956. Territorial disputes with Mauritania over the ownership of Western Sahara continued through the late 20th century, and despite the ruling of international courts remained unresolved into 2000. Political reforms in the 1990s led to a two-party legislature by 1997.
Early History. Due to its treacherous coastline, Morocco was not strongly influenced by either carthage or rome. As Mauretania Tingitana in 42 a.d. it was detached from Mauretania Caesariensis and Sitifensis to the east. While early Christian and Roman traces are scant, it is known that St. marcellus was martyred in Tangier in 298. At that same time, Diocletian abandoned all but the Tangier peninsula, which was attached to the diocese of Spain. The Arian vandals invaded from Spain in 429 and set up a kingdom in Carthage by 439. The Council of carthage (484) was attended by 50 or 60 Catholic bishops from west Algeria and Morocco; there were no Donatists in Mauretania Tingitana. The Vandals were overthrown by the Byzantine belisarius c. 533. Latin inscriptions from the old Roman capital of Volubilis attest to Catholic life under Moorish rule during the early 7th century.
The visigoths held Tangier from 618 until the Arab conquest of 700, and the region may have been Visigothic lasting into the 10th century. The Idrisid dynasty (788–940) freed itself from the Muslim East, and Morocco became the heart of the Almoravid (1062–1147) and Almohad (1147–1269) empires, which included Muslim Spain. There were Christian soldiers, merchants and slaves in Morocco, and the Mozarabs deported from Granada to Fez had a bishop in 1137. In 1219 St. Francis sent his first missionaries to Morocco, who were martyred in Marrakech (1220) and Ceuta (1227). After the martyrdom of a Dominican bishop of Fez (1227–32), Pope Gregory IX named a Franciscan to the see in 1233 and wrote to the sultan inviting him to become a Christian. Although most of the Franciscan and Dominican bishops of this see resided in Spain after 1237, the orders continued missionary work among the Christians, even though they were handicapped by wars after 1300. Barbary pirates were replaced by the Portuguese, who took Ceuta (1415), Casablanca (1468), and Arzila and Tangier (1471). Ceuta and Tangier, both made archbishoprics, were united in 1570. The See of Fez-Marrakech was suppressed in 1566, but the See of Ceuta-Tangier lasted until 1851.
Spanish influence, which replaced Portuguese in 1580, and French since the protectorate was established in 1912, became the dominant European influences in Morocco. The Filali or Hassani dynasty replaced the Sa‘adi (1524–1668). Universities were established in Fez (1859) and Rabat (1957). The apostolic prefecture of 1630 restored Franciscan missions in Meknes, Fez, Salé, Marrakech and Tetuán; the expulsion of 1790 left them in Tangier only. The prefecture was restored in 1859 and became a vicariate in 1908. In 1912, the Spanish and French Franciscans divided the vicariate according to the protectorates established, the French in 1923 forming the Vicariate of Rabat, which included nine-tenths of Morocco.
Following World War II, during which time Morocco was used as an Allied supply base, the sultan's requested for political autonomy was denied by the French government. The French finally recognized Moroccan independence in 1956 and Sultan Muḥammad V became king in 1957. During the same period Spain gave up most of their territorial claims in Morocco. In 1955, a year before Morocco gained independence, the hierarchy was established, and the vicariates of Rabat and Tangier became archbishoprics. The Benedictine monastery of Toumlilene near Azrou in the Atlas Mountains hosted international Catholic-Muslim conferences of considerable influence.
Hassan II succeeded to the throne in 1961 and attempted to establish a constitutional monarchy. After this proved unworkable, he suspended Parliament in late 1963, and ruled amid charges of corruption that surfaced during the 1970s. In March of 1972 a constitution was finally implemented, and was revised in September of 1996 to create a bicameral legislature. In July of 1999 Hassan II died and was succeeded by his eldest son, Muḥammad VI, as the 18th king in the Alawite dynasty. Islam was the official religion, although the constitution granted freedom of worship to other faiths.
During the late 20th century Morocco dedicated itself to asserting its territorial claim to the Western Sahara, an area rich in phosphates formerly held by Spain. A deal between Morocco, Spain and Mauritania for control of the region was repulsed by the guerilla Polisaro Front, a Saharan nationalist movement. While Mauritania withdrew its claim in 1978, Morocco continued to assert its claim for full control over the region, despite a ruling against it from an international court. Meanwhile, Hassan II attempted to aid in mediation efforts between Arabs and Israelis following the Arab-Israeli conflict of the mid-1960s, and in 1984 hosted a peace conference in Rabat that ultimately proved unsuccessful.
By 2000 there were 49 parishes tended by 15 secular and 45 religious priests, most of them located near Rabat and Casablanca. Religious included over ten brothers and 270 sisters, who administered the country's 29 primary and 24 secondary Catholic schools and tended to other humanitarian needs within a steadily declining Catholic population. Islam was taught in Morocco's public schools, and the government also subsidized some Jewish education. Tolerance among the faiths was also actively encouraged by the state, which sponsored a series of programs through the University of Rabat and Al Akhawayn University.
Bibliography: b. h. warmington, The North African Provinces from Diocletian to the Vandal Conquest (Cambridge, Eng.1954). Le missioni cattoliche: Storia, geographia, statistica (Rome 1950) 90–91. h. koehler, La Pénétration chrétienne au Maroc (Paris 1914); L'Église chrétienne du Maroc et la mission franciscaine 1221–1790 (Paris 1935). m. leria, Un siglo medieval en la historia de Ceuta, 931–1031 (Ceuta 1961). j. h. emminghaus and a. villanyi, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, eds., j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 7:100–101.
e. p. colbert/eds.]