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New Vatican official: life in war zone taught me value of dialogue

A soldier patrols the border of South Sudan amid skirmishes (Photo: CNS)

Fr Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot has said that living in a war zone taught him the importance of interreligious dialogue “as an instrument for overcoming conflict and drawing together from the source of peace”.

The 60-year-old Spanish priest, who did missionary work in Egypt and in Sudan before becoming head of Rome’s Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, was named secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in June.

Doing pastoral work in the Sudanese Diocese of El-Obeid during the civil war “was an experience I survived, tested, but very much enriched both on a human and a priestly level,” he said in an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

“In that extreme situation, I understood how important dialogue is,” he said.

Now, as Egypt struggles to fulfill the promises of the Arab Spring pro-democracy movement and as Sudan and South Sudan try to recover from the civil war, dialogue continues to be essential, he said.

In Egypt, “the transformations underway must take into account the central element at the heart of the Arab Spring movement and that is respect for the human person and his or her rights, particularly the freedom of expression,” Fr Ayuso said.

In Sudan and South Sudan, he said, dialogue is necessary to promote full rights for members of all ethnic and religious groups and to bring people together to establish government systems based on justice, equality and the rule of law.

“Dialogue between religions, while not concerned with political questions, can make a contribution to the recognition of those values that are at the basis of justice and peace, both within a country and in relations with other states,” he said.

Fr Ayuso said his experience in interreligious dialogue has been a blessing because it allowed him to meet “so many men and women of good will who believe in the importance of dialogue among religions and cultures, and who work together to promote the respect for one another, the mutual understanding and cooperation that are at the basis of the work the church has carried forward with great dedication since the Second Vatican Council.”