24 March 2008

Conversion: An Act of Free Will

Happy Easter to you all. I am sure by now that most have read about the baptism by the Holy Father of a muslim convert at the Easter Vigil in Rome. Excerpts from the full story appear below. The reason I wanted to post on this is because I believe that it is no accident that this baptism took place in such a public way by the Pope himself.

I believe that, perhaps among many other reasons, the Holy Father wished to juxtapose this event with the murder of the Catholic Bishop in Iraq last week. Conversion is possible, of course, but it must be an act of the will of the converted. It must be a free choice, or it is not a conversion at all. Murdering one's enemies stands in stark contrast to the Christian commandment of love of enemies. The Holy Father is no coward, and shepherds his flock without fear of those who would seek violence against him. We should never cease to pray for his temporal and spiritual protection.

Pope baptizes prominent Italian Muslim

By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press Writer
Sat Mar 22, 9:24 PM ET

VATICAN CITY - Italy's most prominent Muslim, an iconoclastic writer who condemned Islamic extremism and defended Israel, converted to Catholicism Saturday in a baptism by the pope at a Vatican Easter service.

An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim who is married to a Catholic, Magdi Allam infuriated some Muslims with his books and columns in the newspaper Corriere della Sera newspaper, where he is a deputy editor. He titled one book "Long Live Israel."

As a choir sang, Pope Benedict XVI poured holy water over Allam's head and said a brief prayer in Latin.

"We no longer stand alongside or in opposition to one another," Benedict said in a homily reflecting on the meaning of baptism. "Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world: distances between people are overcome, in the Lord we have become close."

Vatican Television zoomed in on Allam, who sat in the front row of the basilica along with six other candidates for baptism. He later received his first Communion.

Allam, 55, told the newspaper Il Giornale in a December interview that his criticism of Palestinian suicide bombing provoked threats on his life in 2003, prompting the Italian government to provide him with a sizable security detail.

The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy — which Allam has frequently criticized as having links to Hamas — said the baptism was his own decision.

"He is an adult, free to make his personal choice," the Apcom news agency quoted the group's spokesman, Issedin El Zir, as saying.

Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of Coreis, the Islamic religious community in Italy, said he respected Allam's choice but said he was "perplexed" by the symbolic and high-profile way in which he chose to convert.

"If Allam truly was compelled by a strong spiritual inspiration, perhaps it would have been better to do it delicately, maybe with a priest from Viterbo where he lives," the ANSA news agency quoted Pallavicini as saying.

[...]

The pope administers baptism "without making any 'difference of people,' that is, considering all equally important before the love of God and welcoming all in the community of the Church," said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

[...]

There is no overarching Muslim law on conversion. But under a widespread interpretation of Islamic legal doctrine, converting from Islam is apostasy and punishable by death — though killings are rare.

Egypt's highest Islamic cleric, the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, wrote last year against the killing of apostates, saying there is no worldly retribution for Muslims who abandon their religion and that punishment would come in the afterlife.

On Wednesday, a new audio message from Osama bin Laden accused the pope of playing a "large and lengthy role" in a "new Crusade" against Islam that included the publication of drawings of the Prophet Muhammad that many Muslims found insulting.

Lombardi said Thursday that bin Laden's accusation was baseless. He said Benedict repeatedly criticized the Muhammad cartoons, first published in some European newspapers in 2006 and republished by Danish papers in February.

1 comment:

Fr. Andrew said...

I have to wonder if the Swiss Guards/ Security were advising against this after the Pope was mentioned in Osama's latest message on Al Jazeera? I thought it rather ominous when I heard that message right at Holy Week.

Temporary and Spirtual protection indeed.