Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Interview with Crisiano Allam and Vatican Op- Ed on His Baptism

I am breaking up this into two posts. This post will have the short page one Op Ed that was in Osservatore Romano, which is the Vatican News Paper. There is also a very good interview of Magdi Cristiano Allam by the Italian paper Libero I am putting up. Both of these it appears are being referenced in news wire reports today. The next post I shall be putting up has has two very good hard hitting Op Ed from Italina papers that I think are worthy of reading. Again thanks to the Ratzinger Forum(that thank goodness knows Italian) for the translation.

Religious freedom and dialog
Translated from the March 25-26 issue of
Osservatore Romano

The heart of the Christian year, Easter calls on every man and woman - those who are baptized as well as those who are simply in search of the truth - to conversion. That is why, from the earliest times, the liturgy of the Church provides for the baptism of neophytes during the Easter Vigil and the renewal of baptismal promises by those who are already baptized.

On the death and resurrection of the Word incarnate - an event that truly 'changed the course of history' - Benedict XVI meditated profoundly during the celebration, baptizing at St. Peter's Basilica seven adults coming from every part of the world, to whom he later administered Confirmation and Communion as well, as has become traditional every year in the papal liturgy for Easter Vigil.

Among the seven is an Egyptian-born Italian journalist, Magdi Allam, deputy editor ad personam of Corriere della Sera, the most important Italian newspaper. Allam, after a long personal quest and the preparations necessary for this step, freely asked to be baptized with the name Cristiano. The event, which was as singular as it was solemn and joyous, was not played up [by the Vatican], as shown by the silence that was maintained about it until the last moment, just before the Easter Vigil ceremonies began, when the director of the Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said: The Pope does not make 'distinctions among persons', who are all important in the eyes of God and are all equally welcome to the community of the Church.

Benedict XVI's gesture at the same time has an important meaning because it affirms religious freedom in a clear and gentle way. Religious freedom is also the freedom to change religion, as it was underscored in 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (even if, subsequently and unfortunately, the declaration was amended on precisely this point). Therefore, anyone who, without constraints, asks for baptism has the right to receive it.

Just as there was no undue emphasis made [on Mr. Allam's baptism], likewise there was no hostile intention towards a great religion like Islam. For many decades, the Catholic Church has shown a readiness for confrontation and dialog with the Muslim world, nothwithstanding a multitude of difficulties and obstacles.

But difficulties and obstacles should not obscure what we have in common and what can come in the future, as stated in the conciliar declaration Nostra aetate, and since then, repeated often by the Roman Pontiffs. With baptism - Benedict XVI said during the Vigil and later in his traditional Easter messaage to the city and to the world, the light of God enters us to transform the very shadows, and Easter signifies that Christ is 'the true hope for every human being' - calling on everyone to conversion and penitence - that is, "to live, rejecting all hatred and selfishness". Because truly, in the love of Christ, "the heart of God and the heart of man come together".

Now to the Libero Interview

"Christian at last, and happy - thanks to the Pope'
Translated from Libero, 3/25/08

What would it be like to change one's name when one is 56? We asked that of Magdi Allam who is now Christian. In fact and in name. Baptized, confirmed and given First Communion. Three in one, By Papa Ratzinger himself. And on Easter night. At St. Peter's Basilica. Remarkable for someone who was Muslim. "It's not just the name. It's my entire life that has changed. It means nullifying everything that went before, starting anew in the sign of a new faith, based on values I have always believed in and defended, but which have now become more consolidated in me - in participation with so many other Christians who until now were friends but who are now my brothers, too," he says.

So how should your friends call you now, Magdi or Cristiano?
I am keeping the name Magdi because it is what I was born with and how I am known, but integrating it with Cristiano - Magdi Cristiano Allam.... So it's a double name. That's not uncommon in Italy. I can be addressed with either name, it's fine.

Why did you choose Easter night and the Vatican for receiving the first sacraments?
It's customary around the world for the Church to give the sacraments of initiation into Christianity to catechumens at the Easter Vigil. So even at St. Peter's, the Pope administers baptism, confirmation and communion to a few adults representing the various continents,to underscore the universality of the Church.

Of course, but you are not just anyone. Until then, you were Muslim and have spent much of your life fighting Islamist extremism.
If we were in a normal country where religious freedom is truly protected by law, then we would not even be asking this question. But we are in a country where, if an Italian converts to Islam, nothing untoward happens to him as a consequence. But if a Muslim converts to Christianity, then he immediately receives a sentence of death for apostasy.

But isn't it true that by choosing the place, the date, and the 'priest' for your conversion, you were raising a provocation?
No. It's absurd to even imagine that I - much less the Pope - could be considered provocateurs of Islamic terrorism. It should be clearly understood that the right to religious freedom is inalienable and something to be affirmed clearly and openly.

Don't tell me you did not expect a severe reaction from the Islamic world!
I did consider the possibility.

Well, the Arab press has already launched a landslide of attacks against you and against the Pope...
I've been in this business for more than 30 years, and I know the Arab and Muslim worlds quite well. I have seen events which have been likewise considered provocative.

For example?
The Pope's lecture in Regensburg and the Danish cartoon showing Mohammed as a terrorist.

And did you not think that the Muslims might consider your baptism at St. Peter's a 'second Regensburg'?
It would not surprise me, but I don't intend to surrender nor be intimidated in any way. I know I am doing right. It would be an enormous mistake to give in to the threats of those who through repirsals and condenations imagine they can conquer our minds and subjugate our spirit.

Who proposed the idea of the Easter Vigil baptism at St. Peter's?
I had already decided for some time to profess the Christian faith, and I communicated this to a priest whom I trusted, who happens to be close to the Pope.

Are you referring to Mons. Rino Fisichella?
Yes. It was he who accompanied me through the initiation process, the necessary instruction in the faith. During the course of this initiation, the possibility was raised about being baptized by the Pope. The matter was considered and the decision was favorable.

Did you not think that the action would expose the Holy Father himself to risk?
The Holy Father is very well aware of Muslim reality. His decision was taken in full autonomy and awareness of the situation. I think that such testimony on his part demonstrates that, between the duty of faith to welcome to Christianity those who ask to be baptized and the possible consequences in terms of a possible outbreak of violence, reasons of faith outweigh those of a political and diplomatic nature. So even in this, Benedict XVI has shown again that he is a truly great and courageous Pope.

Muslim sites have been unanimous in condemning you, calling you an apostate and accusing you of 'embracing the West for personal and economic interests'. Are you not afraid they may try to kill you?
For five years now I have lived with a police escort wherever I go and a permanent police survellance at home. I have been condemned to death and repeatedly threatened by Islamic terrorists. Yes, but this is no longer just a fatwa against you. They are talking apostasy. They want to criminalize me, saying that after selling myself to the Israelis and writing a book called Viva Israel, I have now betrayed Islam by embracing Catholicism. But no, I am not afraid to die. I am convinced that one should just move ahead. Everyone should follow the way of truth, of freedom, of affirming life. We should not allow ourselves to be intimidated by the terrorists, whether they are literal cutthroats or those who would simply silence us, whether they make bombs or use intruments which Western law and democracy allow them to use in order to muzzle free spirits and those who fight terrorism. This is a battle we should all meet with heads high and firm backbones. Otherwise, we are finished as a nation and as a civilization.

But even some Catholics think your baptism was an act of exhibitionism. Don't you think that it would have been just as good at any other time and place?
I really cannot understand why some people are bothered over the fact of being baptized by the Pope at the Easter Vigil. They are reasonig in the same terms as the Islamic extremists, who say, "If you really want to convert, then you should do it in secret, so that no one knows, because it is shameful that you should convert." But on the contrary, I am proud that the Pope agreed to baptize me in public. I want to show that religious freedom is a sacrosanct right that one must display with pride.

Franco Monaco, a Catholic, said of you: "I find the public ostentation of an intimate conversion and above all, the motivations of Magdi Allam, questionable."
I am astounded by such an attitude. First of all, a Catholic should respect the Pope. To call the baptism an act of exhibitionism is to criticize the action of the Holy Father.

Shortly before the Easter Vigil began, there was talk that even your son Davide was also going to be baptized. My son is 9 months old and he was baptized a month ago by Mons. Luigi Negri. My wife and I agreed on this, when my own coversion was already well under way.

You have two sons aged 19 and 14 from your first marriage. Are they Christian or Muslim?
They are not Muslim. We could call them non-believers, which is what their mother and myself were, in practice.

How did they react to your conversion?
With great respect, but also with great concern.

You married your second wife, Valentina, in a civil ceremony. Do you plan a church wedding?
Absolutely. We are planning to do it on April 22, but we have not yet decided where.

Update -Post II here at Two Hard Hitting Italian Op-Eds On Pope's Baptism of Magdi Cristiano Allam

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