Monday, 24 March 2008

From Islam to Catholicism

Magdi Allam Recounts His Path to Conversion
Benedict XVI Baptized the Journalist at Easter Vigil

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2008 - Here is a translation of Magdi Allam’s account of his conversion to Catholicism. The Muslim journalist was baptized by Benedict XVI at Saturday's Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

An abbreviated form of this account appeared as a letter to Paolo Mieli, the director of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Allam is the paper’s deputy director. The Italian version of the complete text is available at

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Dear Friends,

I am particularly happy to share with you my immense joy for this Easter of Resurrection that has brought me the gift of the Christian faith. I gladly propose the letter that I sent to the director of the Corriere della Sera, Paolo Mieli, in which I tell the story of the interior journey that brought me to the choice of conversion to Catholicism. This is the complete version of the letter, which was published by the Corriere della Sera only in part.

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Dear Director,

That which I am about to relate to you concerns my choice of religious faith and personal life in which I do not wish to involve in any way the Corriere della Sera, which it has been an honor to be a part of as deputy director “ad personam” since 2003. I write you thus as protagonist of the event, as private citizen.

Yesterday evening I converted to the Christian Catholic religion, renouncing my previous Islamic faith. Thus, I finally saw the light, by divine grace -- the healthy fruit of a long, matured gestation, lived in suffering and joy, together with intimate reflection and conscious and manifest expression. I am especially grateful to his holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who imparted the sacraments of Christian initiation to me, baptism, confirmation and Eucharist, in the Basilica of St. Peter’s during the course of the solemn celebration of the Easter Vigil. And I took the simplest and most explicit Christian name: “Cristiano.” Since yesterday evening therefore my name is Magdi Crisitano Allam.

For me it is the most beautiful day of [my] life. To acquire the gift of the Christian faith during the commemoration of Christ’s resurrection by the hand of the Holy Father is, for a believer, an incomparable and inestimable privilege. At almost 56 […], it is a historical, exceptional and unforgettable event, which marks a radical and definitive turn with respect to the past. The miracle of Christ’s resurrection reverberated through my soul, liberating it from the darkness in which the preaching of hatred and intolerance in the face of the “different,” uncritically condemned as “enemy,” were privileged over love and respect of “neighbor,” who is always, an in every case, “person”; thus, as my mind was freed from the obscurantism of an ideology that legitimates lies and deception, violent death that leads to murder and suicide, the blind submission to tyranny, I was able to adhere to the authentic religion of truth, of life and of freedom.

On my first Easter as a Christian I not only discovered Jesus, I discovered for the first time the face of the true and only God, who is the God of faith and reason. My conversion to Catholicism is the touching down of a gradual and profound interior meditation from which I could not pull myself away, given that for five years I have been confined to a life under guard, with permanent surveillance at home and a police escort for my every movement, because of death threats and death sentences from Islamic extremists and terrorists, both those in and outside of Italy.

I had to ask myself about the attitude of those who publicly declared fatwas, Islamic juridical verdicts, against me -- I who was a Muslim -- as an “enemy of Islam,” “hypocrite because he is a Coptic Christian who pretends to be a Muslim to do damage to Islam,” “liar and vilifier of Islam,” legitimating my death sentence in this way. I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a “moderate Islam,” assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Quran. I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive.

At the same time providence brought me to meet practicing Catholics of good will who, in virtue of their witness and friendship, gradually became a point of reference in regard to the certainty of truth and the solidity of values. To begin with, among so many friends from Communion and Liberation, I will mention Father Juliàn Carròn; and then there were simple religious such as Father Gabriele Mangiarotti, Sister Maria Gloria Riva, Father Carlo Maurizi and Father Yohannis Lahzi Gaid; there was rediscovery of the Salesians thanks to Father Angelo Tengattini and Father Maurizio Verlezza, which culminated in a renewed friendship with major rector Father Pascual Chavez Villanueva; there was the embrace of top prelates of great humanity like Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Monsignor Luigi Negri, Giancarlo Vecerrica, Gino Romanazzi and, above all, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who personally accompanied me in the journey of spiritual acceptance of the Christian faith.

But undoubtedly the most extraordinary and important encounter in my decision to convert was that with Pope Benedict XVI, whom I admired and defended as a Muslim for his mastery in setting down the indissoluble link between faith and reason as a basis for authentic religion and human civilization, and to whom I fully adhere as a Christian to inspire me with new light in the fulfillment of the mission God has reserved for me.

Mine was a journey that began when at four years old, my mother Safeya -- a believing and practicing Muslim -- in the first in the series of “fortuitous events” that would prove to be not at all the product of chance but rather an integral part of a divine destiny to which all of us have been assigned -- entrusted me to the loving care of Sister Lavinia of the Comboni Missionary Sisters, convinced of the goodness of the education that would be imparted by the Catholic and Italian religious, who had come to Cairo, the city of my birth, to witness to their Christian faith through a work aimed at the common good. I thus began an experience of life in boarding school, followed by the Salesians of the Institute of Don Bosco in junior high and high school, which transmitted to me not only the science of knowledge but above all the awareness of values.

It is thanks to members of Catholic religious orders that I acquired a profoundly and essentially an ethical conception of life, in which the person created in the image and likeness of God is called to undertake a mission that inserts itself in the framework of a universal and eternal design directed toward the interior resurrection of individuals on this earth and the whole of humanity on the day of judgment, which is founded on faith in God and the primacy of values, which is based on the sense of individual responsibility and on the sense of duty toward the collective. It is in virtue of a Christian education and of the sharing of the experience of life with Catholic religious that I cultivated a profound faith in the transcendent dimension and also sought the certainty of truth in absolute and universal values.

There was a time when my mother’s loving presence and religious zeal brought me closer to Islam, which I occasionally practiced at a cultural level and in which I believed at a spiritual level according to an interpretation that at the time -- it was the 1970s -- summarily corresponded to a faith respectful of persons and tolerant toward the neighbor, in a context -- that of the Nasser regime -- in which the secular principle of the separation of the religious sphere and the secular sphere prevailed.

My father Muhammad was completely secular and agreed with the opinion of the majority of Egyptians who took the West as a model in regard to individual freedom, social customs and cultural and artistic fashions, even if the political totalitarianism of Nasser and the bellicose ideology of Pan-Arabism that aimed at the physical elimination of Israel unfortunately led to disaster for Egypt and opened the way to the resumption of Pan-Islamism, to the ascent of Islamic extremists to power and the explosion of globalized Islamic terrorism.

The long years at school allowed me to know Catholicism well and up close and the women and men who dedicated their life to serve God in the womb of the Church. Already then I read the Bible and the Gospels and I was especially fascinated by the human and divine figure of Jesus. I had a way to attend Holy Mass and it also happened, only once, that I went to the altar to receive communion. It was a gesture that evidently signaled my attraction to Christianity and my desire to feel a part of the Catholic religious community.

Then, on my arrival in Italy at the beginning of the 1970s between the rivers of student revolts and the difficulties of integration, I went through a period of atheism understood as a faith, which nevertheless was also founded on absolute and universal values. I was never indifferent to the presence of God even if only now I feel that the God of love, of faith and reason reconciles himself completely with the patrimony of values that are rooted in me.

Dear Director, you asked me whether I fear for my life, in the awareness that conversion to Christianity will certainly procure for me yet another, and much more grave, death sentence for apostasy. You are perfectly right. I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith. And I will be more so after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.

For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice. In Italy there are thousands of converts to Islam who live their new faith in peace. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us. By one of those “fortuitous events” that evoke the discreet hand of the Lord, the first article that I wrote for the Corriere on Sept. 3, 2003 was entitled “The new Catacombs of Islamic Converts.” It was an investigation of recent Muslim converts to Christianity in Italy who decry their profound spiritual and human solitude in the face of absconding state institutions that do not protect them and the silence of the Church itself. Well, I hope that the Pope’s historical gesture and my testimony will lead to the conviction that the moment has come to leave the darkness of the catacombs and to publicly declare their desire to be fully themselves. If in Italy, in our home, the cradle of Catholicism, we are not prepared to guarantee complete religious freedom to everyone, how can we ever be credible when we denounce the violation of this freedom elsewhere in the world? I pray to God that on this special Easter he give the gift of the resurrection of the spirit to all the faithful in Christ who have until now been subjugated by fear. Happy Easter to everyone.

Dear friends, let us go forward on the way of truth, of life and of freedom with my best wishes for every success and good thing.

Magdi Allam


Friday, 14 March 2008

Glendon: Pope's Visit Stateside Highly Anticipated

By Carrie Gress

ROME, MARCH 13, 2008 - As anticipation increases on both sides of the Atlantic, people can expect to be given much food for thought when Benedict XVI visits the United States, says U.S. Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon.

In this interview with ZENIT, Ambassador Glendon, the newly appointed U.S. envoy to the Holy See, discusses the post she began in February, and her thoughts on the Holy Father's upcoming April 15-20 visit to Washington, D.C. and New York.

Q: After representing the Vatican for so many years, what is it like being on other the side, so to speak, representing the United States to the Holy See?

Ambassador Glendon: Most of the work I have done over the years as a lay volunteer for the Holy See has been academic rather than representational -- it has involved using my background in law and social science to prepare studies and papers for the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Pontifical Council for the Laity. So the big change for me will be the transition from academic life to public life.

By coincidence, at the very moment when I received the call asking me if I would become the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, I was in the midst of writing a book, "The Forum and the Tower," about personages in history, such as Plato, Edmund Burke and Max Weber, who were torn between philosophy and politics.

It is my hope that my long experience in working with officials of the Holy See will serve me well as I take on the responsibility of building on what is already a strong relationship between the United States and the Holy See.

Q: Having been a here a few weeks, but also expecting a short tenure as ambassador, what are the main priorities you would like to focus your work on over the next year?

Ambassador Glendon: The approaching 25th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See in January of next year coincides with the 60th anniversaries of two documents that embody the common commitment of the United States and Holy See to the protection of human dignity: the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and the "Genocide Convention."

The embassy staff, a terrifically talented and energetic group, and I are already hard at work preparing a series of four one-day forums that will commemorate these anniversaries.

The first will be in May at Regina Apostolorum university and will be entitled "Latin America and the International Human Rights Project: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." We have tentative commitments from an exciting array of speakers including the President of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Professor Paolo Carozza, and the son of the brilliant young Cuban diplomat Guy Perez Cisneros, who was the principal leader of the Latin American and Caribbean delegations to the U.N. Founding conference in 1945.

The others will be in the fall and winter closer to the actual anniversaries of the "Universal Declaration on Human Rights" and the "Genocide Convention," Dec. 10 and 11, respectively. The first will be entitled "For Everyone, Everywhere" and will be devoted to the dilemmas of universality of human rights in the world characterized by cultural and religious diversity. The next will commemorate the "Genocide Convention," and it is likely that in that conference we will invite people to reflect on the notion of lives deemed "unworthy to live" a pernicious notion that keeps resurfacing in new forms.

The fourth conference probably will be in January 2009, near the 25th anniversary of the actual formalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See, and will serve as a celebration of that relationship, which began informally 230 years ago, and from its beginning has had the aim of championing and protecting human dignity and freedom

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges of your new position?

Ambassador Glendon: Certainly one of the major challenges for all U.S. ambassadors these days is to provide the best possible information about American values and policies so as to counter misunderstandings and negative stereotypes about our country and its people.

For me in particular, another challenge is the regular rotation of foreign service officers from one post to another. There will be some shifts in personnel here at the embassy in the next few months. This is quite different from the long-term time frames that one encounters in the academic world and in the Vatican.

Q: ZENIT has spoken with previous ambassadors about the links between U.S. policies and the values of the Holy See. What do you see as some of the major areas of overlap? Are there areas in particular that you would like to see greater unity?

Ambassador Glendon: There is already great unity in our shared commitments to protect human dignity, to promote human rights, especially religious freedom, to strengthen the global moral consensus against terrorism, and against the misuse of religion as a pretext for terrorist violence, to promote dialogue among diverse faiths and cultures, to combat trafficking in persons, and to search for creative ways to improve the lives of those suffering from poverty, hunger and disease.

As to the second question, after only two weeks it is a bit early to say, but it is heartening to see how, over the past 25 years, the range of common concerns has continually expanded. It is my hope to build on the strong relationship established by my distinguished predecessors.

Q: What are your thoughts on Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the United States and what do think some of the main themes of his trip will be?

Ambassador Glendon: Anticipation is running high on both sides of the Atlantic. The Pope said during my credentials ceremony that he was looking forward to his trip to the United States, and from his address on that occasion one can see that he is very interested in the way that faith and reason have been intertwined in our democratic experiment.

We also know from his writing is that he is very intrigued by certain contrasts between America and Europe, and certain distinctive features of American culture. He seems intrigued by our version of the church-state relationship and how that seems to be compatible with great religious vitality.

As for the themes he may address, that is the question all of us are asking. Everyone is waiting and intensely speculating. I think all one can say is that whatever themes he chooses to emphasize, there will be much food for thought from this brilliant scholar who has stepped so smoothly into the role of a spiritual leader whose moral voice resonates throughout the world.

I would not be surprised if -- like Tocqueville in his reflections on "Democracy in America" -- the Pope's speeches in the United States contained much material that is also addressed to Europe.

Q: Many Americans, like the rest of the world, had such a devotion to Pope John Paul II. What do you think the reception of Benedict XVI will be?

Ambassador Glendon: One can speculate based on the way that Pope Benedict has been received by audiences that are getting to know him for the first time here in Italy and in other countries.

From the moment he delivered the homily at Pope John Paul II's funeral -- and I was there that day -- people the world over were moved and astonished by his pastoral eloquence. They saw a man most had known, mainly through his writings, as a very scholarly person. But on that day and since then, we have come to know him as a "humble shepherd," as he has called himself, and a wise teacher who can speak clearly and profoundly yet in ways that are accessible to everyone.

Thursday, 6 March 2008


VATICAN CITY, 5 MAR 2008 (VIS) - In the light of the open letter "A Common Word" signed by 138 Muslim scholars, and of Benedict XVI's response through Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B., a delegation of five signatories of that letter met with five representatives of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in the Vatican on 4 and 5 March.
A communique made public today and signed by the heads of the two delegations, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and by Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad, states that, "in order to further develop Catholic-Muslim dialogue, the participants agreed to establish the 'Catholic-Muslim Forum' and to organise the first seminar of the forum in Rome from 4 to 6 November 2008".
That meeting will be attended by 24 religious leaders and scholars from each side. The theme will be "Love of God, Love of Neighbour" and the sub-themes "Theological and Spiritual Foundations" and "Human Dignity and Mutual Respect". The seminar will conclude with a public session on 6 November and the participants will be received by Pope Benedict XVI.
The participants in this month's meeting were, on the Catholic side, Cardinal Tauran, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata and Msgr. Khaled Akasheh, respectively president, secretary and head officer for Islam of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue; Fr. Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot M.C.C.J., president of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies; and Fr. Christian W. Troll S.J., visiting professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
On the Muslim side, the meeting was attended by Sheikh Murad, president of the Muslim Academic Trust, UK; Professor Aref Ali Nayed director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, Amman, Jordan; Dr. Ibrahim Kalin of the SETA Foundation, Ankara, Turkey; Imam Yahya Pallavicini, vice-president of CO.RE.IS. (Comunità Religiosa Islamica), Italy ; and Sohail Nakhooda, editor-in-chief of "Islamica" Magazine, Amman , Jordan .

Christ's Imprint on the Shroud of Turin

Interview With Expert on the Shroud of Turin

By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, MARCH 4, 2008 (Zenit) - Those who won't admit to seeing Christ in the imprint of the Shroud of Turin are those who are afraid to acknowledge him, according to the vice director of the International Center for Shroud Studies.

Nello Balossino participated Friday in an international congress on the hypotheses and scientific studies regarding the shroud, organized by the master's program in science and faith of the Regina Apostolorum university.

In this interview with ZENIT, Balossino comments on the current status of studies regarding the shroud and what steps need to be taken to prove a connection between the cloth and Christ.

Q: After so many years of studies, in your own opinion, who is the man of the shroud?

Balossino: Interdisciplinary studies have been conducted on the shroud for centuries. Some of them have produced unmistakable and significant results. Others have simply laid the foundations for later research. Regardless, all the studies coincide in truly finding that the shroud is not a counterfeit, but rather, it could well be the cloth that covered the body of a man who was submitted to the martyrdom of crucifixion following the characteristics described in the Gospels.

So it could be Christ. As well, the computer technology research we’ve conducted has added credence to this hypothesis: Digital analysis of the data reveals underlying information. Take for example how thanks to technology some of the details regarding facial wounds were discovered, which are not visible to the naked eye.

Q: How meaningful has carbon dating done on the shroud been with regard to uncovering the truth?

Balossino: If by uncovering the truth you mean finding irrefutable proof that the shroud covered Christ’s body, that’s probably never going to happen. Nevertheless, carbon dating, a controversial analysis in subject matters beyond the Shroud of Turin, doesn’t stand in the way of research conducted over the years because it is a finding that could be once again questioned.

Carbon dating doesn’t detract from what is contained in the image, in other words, the sufferings borne by a man.

As far as the validity of the radioactive dating applied to the shroud, which is well known to have been contaminated a number of ways over the centuries, among them in the Chambery fire, we should be very cautious of extrapolating rash conclusions based on the results.

This is also due to the fact that the protocol followed in [the] 1988 [test] was outside of standard practice, such as the blind selection of sample material, which was not followed. Now we are looking at a probable reexamination of the methodology employed by the very people that studied the shroud.

Q: In your opinion, is it possible to find the exact age of the shroud? What tools and technologies could be used to provide a reasonable framework for research?

Balossino: I think an interdisciplinary group of experts should decide how to choose a methodology for precisely dating the cloth. The purpose would be to avoid recommitting the carbon dating error. For example, a technology that can find the age of cloth is cellulite depolimerization, which is superior because it is not influenced by any type of contaminant.

Q: Is it true that traces of blood of the crucified man have been left on the shroud?

Balossino: There are a number of traces of blood that came from the crucified man on the shroud, as much as when he was alive as after death, such as the prominent wound on the right side.

Q: Is there a scientific explanation that can replicate the image of a man wrapped in cloth in the same manner as has happened in the case of the Shroud of Turin?

Balossino: Many theories have been proposed regarding the origin of the image on the shroud. The most credible ones, because they have produced images similar to the Shroud of Turin, are as follows.

Contact theory: The body of the man in the Shroud of Turin caused the imprint through direct contact with the cloth in the space of less than 40 hours. There are not effective traces of decomposition.

Vapor theory: Vapors given off by the corpse reacted with the aloe and myrrh solution possibly present on the cloth to stop the decomposition process.

Radiating energy theory: Various types of energy acted on the aloe and myrrh solution, for example electromagnetic energy or light or even the transformation of matter into energy, which is only possible in a nuclear explosion.

It should be noted that the experiments have only been done on the facial region and have run into a number of application problems; I can just imagine the problems that will certainly arise in the front and back body regions.

Q: In your opinion, why are so many people afraid of discovering the imprint of Jesus in the mysterious shroud?

Balossino: Maybe because they are afraid of admitting there was a man 2,000 years ago willing to sacrifice himself for humanity. Today there are also many people who, although not to the same extreme degree of Christ, lay themselves out for their neighbor and don’t just think about their own egoism.


Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Muslim scholars, Vatican officials talk, Meeting with Pope could follow

VATICAN CITY - Muslim scholars who have called for greater dialogue with Christians began two days of talks Tuesday with the Vatican to prepare for what church officials say will be a historic audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

The group includes representatives of 138 Muslim scholars and intellectuals who wrote to Benedict and other Christian leaders last year urging Christians and Muslims to develop their common ground of belief in one God.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, is hosting the representatives to lay the groundwork for a papal audience expected sometime later this year, Vatican officials said Tuesday. No date had been set.
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Tauran himself has said the planned papal audience, which Benedict proposed as part of his official response to the Muslims' letter, could start a "historic" dialogue between the faiths.

The Vatican has welcomed the Muslim letter as an encouraging sign, eager to improve relations with moderate Islam ever since Benedict angered many in the Muslim world with a 2006 speech about Islam and violence.

In the speech, Benedict cited a medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The pope later said he was "deeply sorry" over the reaction to his remarks and said they did not reflect his own opinions.

In the letter to Benedict and other Christian leaders, the Muslim scholars, muftis and intellectuals drew parallels between Islam and Christianity and their common focus on love for God and love for one's neighbor. They also noted that such a focus is found in Judaism.

"As Muslims and in obedience to the Holy Quran, we ask Christians to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions," the letter said. "Let this common ground be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us."

Noting that Christians and Muslims make up an estimated 55 percent of the world population, the scholars concluded that improving relations is the best way to bring peace to the world.