Italy: Reactions to Magdi Allam’s Baptism

Source: FSSPX News


The vice-president of the Italian Muslim community, Yahya Pallavicini, told Italian news agency Ansa about  his “respect” for Magdi Allam’s decision, but also his “perplexity” regarding the timeliness of his baptism by the pope. Italian imam Yahya Pallavicini, belonged to the Muslim delegation received at the Vatican, at the beginning of March, to prepare the first Catholic-Muslim Forum, scheduled for next November. He mentioned the danger that this gesture fosters the sentiment that the Catholic Church decision to dialogue may be accompanied by a desire for “supremacy” above other religions. “The gesture was done on the day following the Prophet’s birthday, the Muslim Christmas, runs the risk of generating negative messages, and reveals the Vatican’s political intention to make the supremacy of the Catholic Church prevail over other religions,” he pointedly said. According to him, this was “an error (through lack) of intellectual honesty,” perpetrated “with the complicity of the Vatican’s hierarchy.”

On March 24, Aref Ali Nayed, rector of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Amman (Jordan), deplored the “deliberate and provoking decision” that this baptism was “on such a special occasion and in so spectacular a manner.” Aref Ali Nayed, who is one of the signatories of the Letter of the 138 (see DICI n° 167), invited the Vatican to “distance” itself from “Magdi Allam’s declarations” whose “latest article was similar to that of the Byzantine emperor, quoted by the pope in his detestable address in Regensburg.” This baptism administered by the pope, he said, “was another way of re-affirming the Regensburg message.” Denouncing the mention of the passage from darkness to light, and the desire to bring back the lost sheep through baptism, Aref Ali Nayed declared that: “so totalitarian a discourse from Rome was all but beneficial.”

In his edition of March 25 and 26, The Osservatore Romano justified the baptism in the name of religious liberty. The director of the newspaper, Giovanni Maria Vian, signed an editorial entitled “Religious Liberty and Dialogue.” He pointed out that Benedict XVI’s gesture was greatly significant because it affirms religious liberty, with moderation and clarity. Religious liberty is also the liberty of changing religion, as the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, emphasized in 1948. “Thus, whoever, without coercion, requests  to receive baptism has the right to receive it,” he added. Giovanni Maria Vian also underlined that the Holy See had chosen discretion in the announcement of the baptism. Besides “there was no amplification, neither any hostile intention toward a great religion like Islam.” Lastly, he wished to re-affirm the desire for  debate and a dialogue with the Islamic world, in spite of a thousand difficulties and obstacles.

On March 27,  Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Press Office of the Holy See, published a declaration in answer to the note published by Professor Aref Ali Nayed. He firstly recalled the common “will to continue the dialogue toward a more profound mutual knowledge between Muslims and Christians.This had priority over episodes that may be the subject of misunderstandings.”

He then recalled that a profession of faith is “proclaimed publicly during the ceremony of baptism,” and added that “the admission of a new believer into the Church obviously does not mean the Church adheres to all his ideas and stands, particularly in political and social areas.” Thus, Magdi Cristiano Allam “has the right to express his own ideas, which obviously remain his personal opinions, without in any way becoming the official expression of the positions of the pope or of the Holy See.” Besides, he added that to call Manicheism the explanation of the symbols given by the pope “revealed perhaps a misunderstanding of Catholic liturgy rather than a pertinent criticism of Benedict XVI’s words.”

Liberty of conscience is “a fundamental right” commented Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for interreligious dialogue, which is currently leading the dialogue with the Muslim authors of the Letter of the 138. Concerning the baptism, he said that: “he knew nothing about the genesis of the event nor who organized it.”

“Religious conversion is always a public choice, and is unavoidably seen from two opposite viewpoints: for some, it is an apostasy, for others, a positive changed,” declared Bishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture to Italian news agency Ansa on March 28. Bishop Ravasi specified that “conversion was part of the dynamic of the person and of religions, and for that reason, we must have for it the greatest respect.” “These choices, which imply a change of our vision of life and of the world, cannot remain hidden and silent.”

On March 29, in a letter published by Corriere della Sera, Magdi Cristiano Allam said he was “absolutely convinced that we can and must dialogue with all the Muslims who agreed on the fundamental rights of the persons, without any if or but.” “I am in no way an apologist or a maker of wars between religions or civilizations,” he added. And he affirmed again that Islam was not a “true and good” religion. He deplored that his baptism was “used” to discredit him and to “attack the pope,” and also lamented the attitude of “some members of the Catholic clergy” who had judged that his baptism should have been celebrated more discretely “in a parish of a distant town, out of reach (…) of the media.” “As if my baptism were something shameful which had to remain as hidden as possible.”

“I consider my baptism by the pope as the greatest gift received in my life,” he said, while declaring that he completely agreed with the Vatican’s clarification by which it distanced itself from his declarations against Islam. “I completely agree with” the declaration made by the Vatican’s spokesman “who established a distinction between my personal ideas (…) and the official position of the Church,” he affirmed. (Sources: Apic/Imedia/ Vatican/Corriere della Sera/AFP)