Mass in Morocco
Mass in Morocco
Now more familiar with the city, and with a more relaxed schedule than the first interval in Fes, I found time the two Sunday mornings of Fes Phase II to attend Mass at Église Saint François d'Assise, the Catholic church in the Ville Nouvelle. From a combination of my own presuppositions and offhand remarks from people with whom I had spoken, I had a very set image in my mind of how the church would look. It would be a small building blending in with the surrounding architecture, an almost Calvinist austerity on the interior, and a ramshackle parish of tired relics of bygone colonial days. As assumptions tend to be, this was markedly wrong.
In a large, modern church easily identifiable in the surrounding neighborhood, I attended Mass with a congregation of West African migrants; perhaps no more than ten of us were not among their ranks. The service was in French as I expected, but the parish office provided prayer sheets in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic as well, and several hymns were sung in some African language I couldn't identify. I was stunned mostly by the sheer number of migrants. In the insular world of the medina, I had grown accustomed to a world that was wholly Moroccan; fresh on the heels of a lecture on Moroccan migrant labor, the at least 200 clearly non-Moroccan, mostly male, churchgoers around me in the pews fascinated me as an irrefutable example of the ever-elusive allure of a new world. As a side note, three women who appeared to be a mother and her daughters, all wearing hijab, joined about halfway through the service. I determined to know more about this group about which I had previously known nothing.
I arrived early my second Sunday in Fes, and took my seat in one of the pews as fellow worshipers trickled in. A number of men signed a sheet ofs paper on a table near the entrance, something I hadn't seen before. After the recessional, I read the sheet the men had been signing earlier, and they were parish sign-ups for new arrivals, a number near-equally balanced with parishioners announcing their departures. In long rolls above the prayer sheets, as is also custom for churches in America, the parish posts contacts for helping its members integrate. Here, they were all listed by country. In columns, the immigrants listed their names, and where available, phone numbers and email addresses. Hosts from Burkina Faso, Togo, Cameroon, the Congos, and the greatest number from Guinea-Bissau, put themselves out to help their countrymen in either a new home, a refuge, or just another stop on the long road north. I left the courtyard of the church only a few paces behind three men from the congregation, one of whom I recognized as the man who sat across the aisle, a man who, too, arrived early, and, after signing what I believe, imagine, was the departures list, sat silently in prayer until the service began.
"D'où viens-tu?" "Où vas-tu?" I could ask them. "Comment trouves-tu habiter dans un pays musulmane?" "Aimes-tu le Maroc?" "Quel sont des conditions des immigrants ici?" Those, too, I could have asked. For two blocks, we walked, I only a few paces behind them. The tall man from the pew across the aisle from me bent down to fix his shoe, and I finally spoke.
I passed them and walked the rest of the way to the taxi stand.