Dicastery welcomes new Nostra Aetate Foundation student

19 October 2023

The Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue is pleased to welcome the newest scholarship recipient of the Nostra Aetate Foundation, Mr. Ahmed Abdel Djallil Dekhili. Below is his self-presentation.

My Discovery of the Christian World
and the Nostra Aetate Foundation

My name is Ahmed Abdel Djallil DEKHILI. I am 50 years old from Algeria and my religion is Islam. I am married to a wife and we have three children. I am living now in Rome since early October 2023.

As you probably know, it is not very common to meet Christians in Algeria. The Algerian Catholic Church is very small. There are only 5,000 Catholics divided into four dioceses. The number of Protestants is ten times superior to Catholics. Most Protestants are Algerian, while the larger part of Catholics, on the contrary, is made up of immigrants, who are therefore more visible.

The first Christians I ever met were part of the community of «The little brothers of Jesus» in Tazrouk, a village 150 km away from Tamanrasset in the extreme south of Algeria, in the desert. This was during my first visit to Tamanrasset and my first position as a teacher at the college of Tazrouk.

In very little time we became friends and later I met Fr. Antoine CHATELARD (a specialist on St. Charles de Foucauld) who was the parish priest of Tamanrasset, with whom I remained friends and in contact until the last days of his life.

After spending ten years in Tamanrasset, I returned to my native town, Setif (situated in the north east of Algeria) as a French teacher in the middle school, then as a head teacher and finally as a teacher trainer, a role I still carry out. It is here that my interreligious journey continued with Fr. Maurice who was the parish priest of Setif, and later with the other members of the Algerian Church.

My relationship of friendship and fraternity with Christians has only grown and with it my openess to the other religion and also within my own religion. The many meetings in which I took part, sometimes as a guest and sometimes as a speaker, and the opportunity to get to know great, very humble personalities such as Mgr. Henri TESSIER, Mgr.Claude RAULT and many other priests, was very enriching for my spirituality and my knowledge in the field of theology.

Continuing to participate in meetings, I found myself in the group of «Ribat Essalam» (the Link of Peace). It is an Islamic-Christian group founded in March 1979 in the monastery of Tibhirine by Br. Christian de Chergé, Mgr. Claude RAULT and some other religious men and women. Six members of this group were beatified in December 2018 in Oran, Algeria. This only fueled my curiosity to better know the others and try to build something with them.

A few years ago, Mgr. Claude RAULT and some former members of the «Ribat Essalam» group asked me to become the new leader of the group and I accepted immediately after a vote. I am also the editor of the group’s newsletter, which is sent regularly to PISAI (Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies) and many other Catholic places around the world. Among other things and together with the Jesuit Fathers, we lead interreligious retreats. These are Ignatian retreats according to «St. Ignatus of Loyola» in which both Muslims and Christians participate. I am in charge of the texts of Muslim tradition while my Catholic friends present those of the Christian tradition.

As I become more and more passionate about interreligious affairs and aware of the importance and urgency of fighting for universal brotherhood, I felt that I was not equipped well enough to be more involved while ensuring that I was still effective in what I was doing.

After much reflection and consultation with friends such as Fr. Theoneste, parish priest of Setif, as well as Bishop Claude RAULT (Bishop emeritus of the South) and Archbishop Jean-Paul Vesco (Archbishop of Algiers), and being aware of the importance of having a solid formation to better address current issues, I decided very seriously to look for a scholarship for the year 2023-2024.

One day, I was with my Christian friends and one of them told me about Nostra Aetate Foundation in the Vatican. He explained that it is a very active organism in the domain of interreligious dialogue, run by the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue. Then, I applied for the of Nostra Aetate Foundation scholarship and, gratefully, I was accepted.

Since October 1st I am in Rome and will be studying here until February 2024. I liked very much the city of Rome when I attended the canonisation of Br. Charles de Foucauld last 15 May 2022, with the Algerian delegation, chaired by Mgr. Jean-Paul Vesco. It is for me, a particular and great joy to be in Rome again for a longer period. Rome is, due to its history, a very interesting and meaningful city. Its importance is also due to the presence of the Vatican in the heart of this city. Pope Francis lives here. I saw him many times in the newspapers and on the TV, especially in KTO tv program. I hope very much to see him in reality. To me, he is a very good person. He is brave and wise, always fighting in order to establish peace and universal fraternity in the whole world.

I like Rome too because Italian food is very delicious, especially pizza, tiramisu, gelato, cappuccino… And to me, the Italians are very nice people. I am living in the house of the «White Fathers,» also well-known as the African Missionaries. We are like a family. I enjoy very much this house and this community.

Last week, I started my studies at the Pontifical universities of the Angelicum and the Gregoriana. All professors are Catholics. They are very attentive and helpful. The courses selected along with the Foundation Nostra Aetate are very interesting. This program offers me a chance to meet and to build up friendships and networks with people from all the world from different cultures and religions. It is a true blessing.

Towards the end of my presentation, I would like to thank all the people who helped me come here, as well as those who welcomed me warmly. I thank particularly the President of the Foundation, Msgr. Indunil Kodithuwakku, and the Vice President, Fr. Markus Solo SVD, who welcomed me warmly at the airport upon my arrival in Rome and takes care of me during my stay in Rome. I cannot mention other names one by one, but their names are well written in my heart and in my mind. God bless you all!