I am just now started to get more interested in this story.
As you know the Holy Father baptized a Muslim at the Easter Vigil, Magdi Allam, vice-director of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
Some reactions have been harsh… big surprise.
However, it seems that Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, of the Holy See Press Office has made some observations… which are really not being reported by the Italian press, which still for the most part is publishing critical comments about baptism.
Here is what Fr. Lombardi said, in my rapid translation, for Vatican Radio:
The debate about the baptism imparted by the Pope at the Easter Vigil on the vice-director of Corriere della Sera, Magdi Allam, who converted from Islam to Catholicism after a long personal journey, is still alive. Among the reactions of the Islamic world, of note are those of the well-known Prof. Aref ali Nayed, director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center and a key figure in the new direction of Islamic-Christian dialogue begun with the "Letter of 138 scholars". It is a critical comment which merits attentive consideration and to which our director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, responds with some observations:
Above all, the most significant affirmation is without doubt the confirmation of the desire of the writer to continue dialogue of greater awareness and reciprocal understanding between Muslims and Christians, and in no way puts into question the journey begun with correspondence and contacts established during the last year and a half between Muslim scholars who signed the well-known letters and the Vatican, especially through the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. This path must continue, it is of extreme importance, it must not be interrupted, and it is of priority in respect to the episodes which could be an occasion of misunderstanding.
In the second place, administering baptism on a person implies recognizing that he accepted the Christian faith freely and sincerely, in its fundamental articles expressed in the "profession of faith". This comes to be publicly proclaimed on the occasion of baptism. Naturally every believer is free to conserve his own ideas on a vast gamut of question and problems about which there is a legitimate pluralism among Christians. To receive a new believer in the Church does not, clearly, mean embracing all the ideas and positions, especially on political or social themes.
The baptism of Magdi Cristiano Allam is a good occasion expressly to reinforce this fundamental point. He has the right to express his own ideas, which remain his personal ideas, clearly without them becoming in any way the official expressions of the positions of the Pope or the Holy See.
Regarding the debate on the Regensburg Address, the explanations of the correct interpretation of the intentions of the Pope were given long ago and there is no reason to call them into question again. At the same time, some of the themes already touched upon, like the relationship between faith and reason, between religion and violence, naturally remain the object of reflection and debate and of divergent positions, given that reference is being made to problems that cannot be resolved once and for all.
In the third place, the liturgy of the Easter Vigil is celebrated every year, and the symbolism of light and of darkness is always a part of it. Certainly it is a solemn liturgy and the celebration in St. Peter’s by the Pope is a very special occasion.
But to launch the accusation of "Manichaeism" at the Pope’s explanation of the liturgical symbolism – which he does each time he presides – perhaps manifests somewhat a lack of comprehension of Catholic liturgy which is a critically pertinent aspect of the discourse of Benedict XVI.
At last, let it be permitted to show on our part displeasure regarding what Prof. Nayed says about education in Christian schools in countries of Muslim majority, objecting to the risk of proselytism.
It seems that the very great tradition of education efforts of the Catholic Church also in countries with a non-Christian majority (not only in Egypt, but also India , Japan, etc.) where very often the great majority of students in schools and Catholic universities are not Catholic, and who have tranquilly remained so, even with true esteem for for the education received, merit an entirely different interpretation. We do not think an accusation of lack of respect for the dignity and freedom of the human person is merited today on the part of the Church. An entirely different question about the violations of it, to which special attention is to be given. Perhaps also for which reason the Pope assumed the risk of this baptism: to affirm the freedom of religious choice which is the consequence of the dignity of every human person.
In any case, Prof. Aref Ali Nayed is an interlocutor for whom we preserve the highest esteem and with whom it is always worth while to engage by the book. This permits us to have faith in the continuation of dialogue.
What ANSA did with this:
(ANSA)- ROMA, 27 MAR – ‘Accogliere nella Chiesa un nuovo credente non significa sposarne tutte le idee’. Cosi’ la Santa Sede sulle posizioni di Magdi Allam. ‘Magdi Allam ha il diritto ad esprimere le proprie idee, senza diventare espressione ufficiale delle posizioni del Papa’. Cosi’ il portavoce della Santa Sede, padre Lombardi, ha risposto oggi alle critiche fatte sul battesimo di Allam dal prof.Ali Nayed, portavoce dei ’138 saggi’ musulmani promotori di una nuova fase di dialogo con il mondo cristiano.
UPDATE 27 March 2008 – 1807 GMT
Vatican Radio’s translation:
Professor Aref Al Nayed has complained about the baptism by Pope Benedict XVI of Magdi Allam on the Easter Vigil. the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, issued this note in response…
The note by Professor Aref Ali Nayed concerning the Baptism administered by the Pope to Magdi Allam on the Easter vigil merits close consideration.
Let us, then, make a few observations.
Firstly, the most significant statement is without doubt the author’s affirmation of his will to continue the dialogue towards a more profound mutual knowledge between Muslims and Christians. He in no way questions the journey that began with the correspondence and the contacts established over the last year and a half, between the Muslim signatories of the well-known letters and the Vatican, in particular through the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. This process must continue, it is extremely important, it must not be interrupted, and has priority over episodes that may be the subject of misunderstandings.
Secondly, administering Baptism to someone implies a recognition that that person has freely and sincerely accepted the Christian faith in its fundamental articles, as expressed in the "profession of faith" which is publicly proclaimed during the ceremony of Baptism. Of course, believers are free to maintain their own ideas on a vast range of questions and problems, on which legitimate pluralism exists among Christians. Welcoming a new believer into the Church clearly does not mean wedding all that person’s ideas and opinions, especially on political and social matters.
The Baptism of Magdi Cristiano Allam provides a good opportunity specifically to underline this fundamental principle. He has the right to express his own ideas. They remain his personal opinions without in any way becoming the official expression of the positions of the Pope or of the Holy See.
As for the debate concerning the Pope’s lecture at Regensburg, explanations for interpreting it correctly in accordance with the Pope’s intentions were given some time ago and there is no reason to question them once more. At the same time, some of the themes touched upon then, such as the relationship between faith and reason, between religion and violence, are naturally still the subject of reflection and debate, and of differing points of view, because they concern problems that cannot be resolved once and for all.
Thirdly, the liturgy of the Easter vigil was celebrated as it is every year, and the symbolism of light and darkness has always been a part of it. It is a solemn liturgy and its celebration by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square is a very special occasion. But to accuse the Pope’s explanation of the liturgical symbols – something he always does and in which he is a master – of "Manichaeism" reveals perhaps a misunderstanding of Catholic liturgy rather than a pertinent criticism of Benedict XVI’s words.
Finally, let us in turn express our own displeasure at what Professor Nayed says concerning education in Christian schools in Muslim-majority countries, where he objects to the risk of proselytism. We feel that the Catholic Church’s great educational efforts, also in countries with a non-Christian majority (not just Egypt but also India, Japan, etc.) where for a very long time the majority of students in Catholic schools and universities are non-Christian and have happily remained so (while showing great appreciation for the education they have received), deserves a quite different evaluation. We do not think the Church today merits the accusation of lack of respect for the dignity and freedom of the human person; these suffer entirely different violations to which priority attention must be given. Perhaps the Pope accepted the risk of this Baptism also for this reason: to affirm the freedom of religious choice which derives from the dignity of the human person.
In any case, Professor Aref Ali Nayed is an interlocutor for whom we maintain the highest respect and with whom a faithful exchange of views is always worthwhile. This allows us to trust in the continuation of dialogue.
UPDATE 20:04 GMT
Apparently wedding bells will be chiming…
Muslim convert baptized by the Pope to marry in the Church
ROME, Mar 27, 2008 / 02:35 pm (CNA).- The Muslim journalist Magdi Allam, who was received into the Church during the Easter Vigil by Pope Benedict XVI, plans to marry Valentina Colombo in the Church on April 22, according to the Italian daily Libero.
The couple’s son, Davide, who is nine months old, was baptized a month ago, when Allam’s journey to the Catholic faith was in its final phase.
Allam is 55 and is associate director of the newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. During the last five years he has lived under police protection due to death threats over his conversion to Christianity and his positions against Islamic fundamentalism.
During the interview, Allam said he is not afraid of death and that he will continue moving “forward” on “the road of truth, freedom and affirmation of life.”
His baptism has been criticized by both Islamic fundamentalists and Islamic moderates, including the Muslim intellectuals who attended a meeting at the Vatican this month to promote inter-religious dialogue.
The director of L’Osservatore Romano, Gian Maria Vian, said yesterday in an editorial that Magdi Allam’s baptism was “not intended to be hostile towards the great Islamic religion.”
Allam took this step “after a long personal search and the necessary preparation for taking this step,” Vian said. “Benedict XVI’s gesture has important meaning because it affirms religious freedom in a humble and clear way” and shows that “anyone who requests baptism without constrictions has the right to receive it,” he emphasized.