Monday, March 24, 2008

My Name is Christian

As previously noted, Magdi Allam -- a deputy editor of Italy's Corriere della Sera described as the Bel Paese's "most-prominent Muslim commentator" -- was baptized, confirmed and received his first Eucharist from Pope Benedict at Saturday's Easter Vigil at the Vatican.

Taking the name "Christian," Allam, 55, was revealed as one of the papal catechumens barely an hour before the liturgy began; the group of seven also included neophytes from China and the US. The Egyptian-born journalist's inclusion in the group sparked a tempest in Italy's chattering circles, some of which lamented that the highly public nature of Allam's reception into the church could be viewed in the Muslim world as a "provocation" as Benedict pursues his aim of "reciprocity" with the Islamic street.

In yesterday's edition of his paper -- Italy's largest selling daily -- and on his website, Allam wrote about his conversion.
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” ["Christian"]. 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.....

[U]ndoubtedly 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.

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....

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....

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.
PHOTO: AP/Alessandra Tarantino