As we struggle with our anger, sorrow, pain and next steps, I hope you, as I did, will see the significance in what took place here in Rabat, Morocco Sept. 16 in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
In the largest Catholic Cathedral in downtown Rabat, we held a service of remembrance for the United States and its people. It was covered live in total for over an hour by all Moroccan television, radio and print press. I was told not since the funeral of King Hassan II had anything like this ever taken place in Morocco. Never in the history of Morocco had a direct message from the King been read in anything other than a Mosque.
Basically the entire government of this country attended including all of the opposition. In attendance were the prime minister, the speaker of the House, the entire cabinet, the heads of the military, the King’s key royal counselors, representatives of all the political parties and an outpouring from the official and non-official American community. The ambassadors who make up the diplomatic corps here attended – about 100 in all. The people who work here at the embassy were blown away by who attended and the full press coverage the event received.
The head Catholic man here read a message from the Pope after the King’s personal man, the Royal Counselor for Islamic Matters, read the King’s message. The top Catholic priest spoke, as did the top Rabbi for Morocco, two Protestant reverends and the head of the Council of Islamic Members, the top Muslim man in Morocco.
As the U.S. ambassador, I was seated on the front row beside the prime minister, the foreign minister and on down the row. Across from me were the King’s top people, and in the row behind me were the military leaders all in full military uniforms. We had 10 rows on each side for officials of the Moroccan government and the political parties. All rows were full.
After the messages from the King, the Pope and the other religious leaders, I walked up to the stark alter where we had an American flag folded and placed a large white candle. I was followed by every single member of the gathering. Every single person lit then placed a candle. It was amazing. We sang “Amazing Grace” and left the cathedral.
This service represented so much for our country. When we are looking for examples of Arab people and Arab governments that are standing with the U.S. in this great time of pain and tension, you all would have been – as I was – so personally and professionally moved by what took place in this Arab capital.
I know that Morocco is not at the top of any of your responsibilities or thoughts, but at a time when we are all so looking for something good and strong from the Arab world, I can tell you I experienced such a moment tonight in Rabat.
To sit there and look up at the men representing all of the major faiths of the world and to be surrounded by the Moroccan government at all levels was just remarkable. As I sat in the cathedral, I thought so much about my family and my friends. I was proud to be an American and to be representing our president and our country in this terribly difficult time in an Arab country way over here.
In some small way, I hope this helps remind all of us that we do have Arab friends in this part of the world, and at least for this country, they are not hiding. They came out in force and very publicly to show support for America – in a Catholic cathedral!
-The writer is U.S. ambassador to Morocco.