Hopes mount for Pope to visit Morocco in December for UN Compact

Pope Francis addressing a session of the UN general assembly

As heads of state prepare to travel to Morocco this December for the anticipated adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, no individual’s participation is being sought after more fervently than that of Pope Francis.

Although he is best known as shepherd to more than one billion Catholics around the world, the pope is also head of the Vatican, and as Crux has previously reported, the Holy See has been lauded by countries and civil society alike for its role in pushing through the Global Compact amid extraordinary global tensions over migration.

The Global Compact, which was finalized last month after two years of consultations and negotiations, offers best practices for migration that member states around the world are supposed to draw upon in implementing their own policies.

As the compact, which is non-legally binding, heads into its implementation phase, many involved in the process believe that if Francis travels to Morocco for its adoption, his presence could give other member states the necessary moral energy to ensure its long-term application.

Last spring, King Mohammed VI formally invited Francis for a state visit to the country – an invitation viewed by many Vatican watchers as setting the stage for Francis’s presence at the U.N. gathering.

While neither the Holy See’s Mission to the United Nations nor the Vatican’s office for Migrants and Refugees would comment on the possibility of the pope’s participation in the event, multiple sources say that an official invitation from the U.N.’s Secretary General is imminent.Should Francis choose to accept that invitation, he would become the second pope to travel to the country, which John Paul II visited in 1985. The late pope’s visit to Morocco over 30 years ago drew headlines, as it was the first time a Roman pontiff had been invited to visit a Muslim country by the head of state, not the local Church.

Nevertheless, Appleby believes the potential benefits far outweigh the risks, and that Francis, who is known for audacious and bold gestures – such as bringing back a dozen Syrian refugees to Rome after his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos in 2016 – knows that such a move could be necessary to bolster the compact’s future.

Appleby believes that if Francis travels to Morocco, “he could counter any movement led by the United Sates to undermine the compact by keeping nations committed to it.”

“If he throws his weight behind it, it is less likely to unravel,” he told Crux. “It would make all the difference, and would make governments around the world – who may put the compact as a third-tier issue – look up and listen. It would call attention to this document and give it life, which is what it will need going forward.”