"Comboni Is Also Venerated by Sudanese Muslims"

Interview With Father Miguel Ángel Ayuso on the Canonization

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 6, 2003 (Zenit.org).- What is the significance of Sunday's canonization of Daniel Comboni at this time?



ZENIT put that and other questions to Father Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, a Comboni missionary and professor at the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies.

Father Ayuso, who has a doctorate in dogmatic theology, has carried out missionary activity in Egypt and Sudan.

Q: In what sense is Daniel Comboni a missionary, father, and prophet?

Father Ayuso: Daniel Comboni, one of the greatest missionaries in Africa of the 19th century, gave his whole life to Africans impelled by one intense desire: to make Christ present in the African world.

At the heart of this desire was his "plan" for the regeneration of Africa by Africans. He gave his life for them and died among them.

He lived the mission in a supreme ecclesial and dedicated spirit, becoming a father, pastor and friend to Africans; a prophet in favor of Africa before his contemporaries, by his missionary activity in Europe and by his struggle against slave trafficking, defending above all human dignity, particularly that of the poorest and most abandoned.

Q: Comboni came to the glory of the altar "thanks" to a miracle experienced by a Muslim woman. Is this a milestone in interreligious dialogue?

Father Ayuso: Daniel Comboni lived his passion for Africa in a Muslim setting. He maintained cordial relations with everyone, a dialogue of life with his people, in the majority Muslims, with whom he shared his life until his death. They were friendly relations on the level of daily relations. Daniel Comboni was sensitive to the needs of all, Christians and Muslims.

He maintained good relations with the Muslim authorities, promoted education, and cooperated in the development of health care in Sudan, also for the benefit of Muslims.

In this context, I have read and interpreted the miracle of Lubna Abdel Aziz, a young Muslim mother, miraculously cured in Khartoum through the intercession of Daniel Comboni. This took place because the love of God has no limits, it is not exclusive, but transcends the human reality of a Church that is always journeying toward the reality of the Kingdom of God, who is always open to all, without any exceptions.

Daniel Comboni's miracle is for me a prophetic act of the love of God and one more example of the importance of interreligious dialogue in the ecclesial reality of today and, particularly, for the future of mankind.

Q: How will Sudanese Catholics react to this canonization?

Father Ayuso: Daniel Comboni's canonization has a special significance for the Church in Sudan. Daniel Comboni has always remained alive and present among the Sudanese.

The Sudanese Church is especially tied to him, considered as a father, whose missionary spirit continues to be present among his people who witness to Jesus Christ in the midst of not a few difficulties. The canonization will, without a doubt, lead them to be confirmed in the faith received, thanks to the work that the Spirit effected in Daniel Comboni, as well as in all those who, since then, have echoed the Good News.

This respect and veneration of Comboni is also present among Muslims of good will, who in the past, as well as today, have seen in him a man of God, who "acted like the prophet Jesus." Comboni is also venerated by the Sudanese Muslims. Therefore, the canonization is a great celebration for Sudan.

Q: Will the Comboni missionaries continue evangelizing Africa or, given the lack of missionaries in Europe, will they change their objective?

Father Ayuso: The primary objective of Comboni missionaries is the proclamation of the love of God. Following the example of our founder, we have dedicated ourselves completely to the African continent, but no exclusively, being open to the needs of the Church.

So the Comboni presence has spread to the American and Asian continents with the same intensity: to proclaim the love of God to all peoples, following the example of Comboni.

Vocations are lacking in Europe, it's true, but they have increased in other continents. Today many Comboni missionaries come from America and Asia. Many of them work in the African continent. Our mission is evangelization beyond national and continental borders. Will Africans evangelize us one day?

Q: How does Daniel Comboni illuminate the life of a Comboni missionary like you?

Father Ayuso: Daniel Comboni was profoundly inspired by the spirituality of his time and he responded to the challenges of his age with boldness, generosity and dedication. Today we also try to be inspired in the spirituality of our time and to respond to the present challenges. Comboni yesterday, Comboni missionaries today.

I have lived 17 years in Egypt and Sudan. My mission has been carried out among Muslims. Interreligious dialogue is an integral part of the mission and a challenge for all in this new millennium. Daniel Comboni's holiness invites me to be a visible sign of the love of God for all human beings, regardless of the religion they profess.

Where injustice prevails, especially toward Christian minorities, I try to become the "voice of the voiceless" to work in favor of human rights, respect, justice and peace. In all this, Daniel Comboni is really illuminating.

Q: Do you think it is significant that Comboni was canonized precisely the same month that Mother Teresa of Calcutta is being beatified?

Father Ayuso: October is the missionary month. We all live our missionary dimension more intensely this month. And in the middle of October we celebrate World Missions Day, a day especially loved by all, because of its universal dimension and the generosity of so many missionaries who witness to Jesus Christ in the world.

I think it is most apt that in this missionary context, this Sunday, missionaries were canonized of the stature of Daniel Comboni, Arnold Janssen, founder of the Society of the Divine Word, and Josef Freinademetz, a missionary in China.

I think it is wonderful that, on the 25th anniversary of his pontificate, John Paul II will celebrate [World Missions] Day with the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the "saint of his pontificate." Wonderful. A whole program for the missionary month full of great events, which I hope will contribute to the spiritual renewal and commitment of the whole Church.

Q: Can the recent nomination of the archbishop of Khartoum as cardinal strengthen the Sudanese Catholic community?

Father Ayuso: The Lord is the one who does everything in everyone but, obviously, the nomination as cardinal of Archbishop Gabriel Zubeir Wako will strengthen the Christian community. I interpret his nomination as a gesture of recognition of the Holy Father toward the highest representative of a Church that for several decades suffers the consequences of one of the "forgotten wars."

I think it has been an important gesture on the part of the Pope, a support to continue to journey as a Church in defense of human rights, particularly those of religious minorities, and to continue to promote religious pluralism in such a long-suffering country through interreligious dialogue. When I heard about his nomination on the radio, I was overjoyed, especially for the Church in Sudan.