Pope Baptizes Muslim Journalist at Easter Vigil

Convert Says it Was a Beautiful Day

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By Jesús Colina

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The day Magdi Allam became a Catholic was a beautiful one, according to the Muslim journalist who was baptized by Benedict XVI at Saturday's Easter Vigil Mass.

Allam, who is originally from Egypt, was one of the seven people -- five women and two men -- the Pope baptized at St. Peter's Basilica.

The Holy Father also administered the sacraments of the Eucharist and confirmation to the seven catechumens from five countries: Italy, Cameroon, China, the United States and Peru.

Allam, deputy director of Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s largest and oldest newspapers, has lived in Italy for almost 35 years.

Explaining what led the Pope to administer baptism to the journalist, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said, “For the Catholic Church, every person who asks to receive baptism after a deep personal search, a completely free choice and adequate preparation, has the right to receive it.”

“For his part,” Father Lombardi added, “the Holy Father administers baptism during the course of the Easter liturgy to those catechumens who are presented to him, without making ‘a distinction between persons,’ that is, considering all of them equally important before the love of God and welcome in the community of the Church.”

In a letter to the director, which appeared in the Corriere della Sera, Allam, who chose Cristiano as his baptismal name, explained that the witness of Catholics, who “gradually became a point of reference in regard to the certainty of truth and the solidity of values,” played an important role in his conversion.

Among these Catholics, he pointed to the president of Communion and Liberation, Father Julián Carrón; the major rector of the Salesians, Pascual Chávez Villanueva; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Benedict XVI's secretary of state; and Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, who “personally accompanied him in the journey of spiritual acceptance of the Christian faith.”

He said the most decisive influence was that of Benedict XVI, “who I admired and, as a Muslim, defended 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.”

“For me it is the most beautiful day of my life,” he added.

Attitude

The Pope said in his homily, addressing himself to the catechumens: “We must be converted ever anew, turning with our whole life toward the Lord. And ever anew we must allow our hearts to be withdrawn from the force of gravity, which pulls them down, and inwardly we must raise them high: in truth and love.”

The Pontiff explained that conversion is not a choice that is exhausted in one day, but a fundamental attitude that must find its fulfillment in daily life.

Conversion, he emphasized, consists in “turning our soul to Jesus Christ and thus toward the living God, toward the light.”

It is the lifting up of the heart to God, “beyond all of the intertwining of our preoccupations, of our desires, our anxieties, our distractions.”

Converting, the Holy Father added, means “again and again we must turn ourselves away from mistaken directions.”

Benedict XVI concluded his meditation with this invocation: “Yes, Lord, make us become Easter persons, men and women of light, full of fire and your love.”