New Spanish president for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, 66, was earlier secretary of the Council.
Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot. (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP)
Pope Francis has opted for continuity with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who died last July, in his appointment of Spanish Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot to head the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Ignoring all the more diplomatic candidates that were presented to him for president of the dicastery responsible for dialogue with other religions, Pope Francis instead chose the man who has been its discreet secretary since 2012 and is one of the Vatican's best experts on Islam.
Born in Seville, Southern Spain in 1952, Bishop Ayuso discovered his religious vocation at an early age, deciding to join the Combonian missionaries, a congregation of Italian origin that is particularly active in eastern Africa.
Missionary in Sudan and Egypt
As a result, Bishop Ayuso spent the major part of his pastoral ministry in Sudan and Egypt. This provided him with a grassroots experience of Islam in which he devoted himself particularly to teaching Islam at the St Paul Seminary and Center for Formation of Teachers of Christian Religion in Khartoum and in Arabic at the Dar Comboni Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Cairo.
Holding a diploma in theology from the University of Grenada in Spain, Bishop Ayuso also studied at the Pontifical Institute for Arab-Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome, returning to teach there in 2003 prior to his appointment as rector in 2006.
Several months after the rupture between the Holy See and the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo in 2012, Benedict tapped him to become the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to work with the diplomat, Cardinal Tauran.
An expert on Egypt, working together with Cardinal Tauran, he was able to make use of his personal relationships with personnel from Al-Azhar to re-establish dialogue.
Dialogue necessary, not an option
Over the course of the next seven years, Bishop Ayuso multiplied his meetings with leaders not only from Islam but also from other religions, pleading constantly for sincerity of dialogue as a "necessary condition for peace in the world" and the only way in his view of "countering extremism."
"Dialogue is a fact of necessity, not an option," he never ceased to repeat.
Following the unexpected death of Cardinal Tauran in July 2018, he became interim head of the Pontifical Council for Dialogue.
Bishop Ayuso's deep knowledge of Islam and his great capacity for work compensated for the lack of diplomatic experience that had enabled Cardinal Tauran to skilfully deal with people, including in the Church, who still held reservations about interreligious dialogue.
Implementing a document on human fraternity
The joint statement on human fraternity signed by Pope Francis and the imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayeb at Abu Dhabi in February recently impacted significantly on this dialogue.
Emphasizing the principles of dialogue, the document affirmed "freedom of belief, thought, expression and action" for all believers.
Since then, Pope Francis, who personally followed the development of the document, has continued to promote and distribute among all heads of states who come to see him at the Vatican.
Bishop Ayuso will now also play a frontline role in defending and implementing it.