correspondents

ITALY

Path to conversion

Magdi Allam recounts his path to conversion in a letter to the director of Cor-riere della Sera, for which he worked as a journalist - Benedict XVI baptized him at the Easter Vigil, 2008

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. 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 Peters during the course of the solemn celebration of the Easter Vigil. And I took the simplest and most explicit Christian name: 'Cristiano.' 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'neighbour,' who is always, and 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.


Faith and reason

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.

I had to ask myself about the attitude of those who publicly declared fatwas, Islamic juridical verdicts, against me -I who was a Muslim - as an 'enemy of Islam,' 'hypocrite because he is a Coptic Christian who pretends to be a Muslim to do damage to Islam,' 'liar and vilifier of Islam,' legitimating my death sentence in this way. I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a 'moderate Islam,' assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Quran. I was forced to see that, beyond the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive.

At the same time providence brought me to meet practising Catholics of good will who, by virtue of their witness and friendship, gradually became a point of reference in regard to the certainty of truth and the solidity of values. But undoubtedly 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 fulfilment of the mission which God has reserved for me.


A mother's example

Mine was a journey that began when at four years old, my mother Safeya, a believing and practising Muslim - in the first in the series of'fortuitous events' that would prove to be not at all the product of chance but rather an integral part of a divine destiny to which all of us have been assigned - entrusted me to the loving care of Sister Lavinia of the Comboni Missionary Sisters, convinced of the goodness of the education that would be imparted by the Catholic and Italian religious, who had come to Cairo, the city of my birth, to witness to their Christian faith through a work aimed at the common good. I thus began an experience of life in boarding school, followed by the Salesians of the Institute of Don Bosco in junior high and high school, which transmitted to me not only the science of knowledge but above all the awareness of values.

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.

There was a time when my mother's loving presence and religious zeal brought me closer to Islam, which I occasionally practised at a cultural level and in which I believed at a spiritual level according to an interpretation that at the time - it was the 1970s - summarily corresponded to a faith respectful of persons and tolerant toward the neighbour, in a context (that of the Nasser regime) in which the secular principle of the separation of the religious sphere and the secular sphere prevailed.

The long years at school allowed me to know Catholicism at close quarters, and the women and men who dedicated their life to serve God in the body 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 signalled my attraction to Christianity and my desire to feel a part of the Catholic religious community.

Italy in the Seventies

Then, on my arrival in Italy at the beginning of the Seventies, 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 as he knew of my desire, immediately agreed personally to 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.


Respecting freedom

For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice. In Italy there are thousands of converts to Islam who live their new faith in peace. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us. By one of those 'fortuitous events' that evoke the discreet hand of the Lord, the first article that I wrote for the Corriere on 3 September 2003 was entitled "The new Catacombs of Islamic Converts.' It was an investigation of recent Muslim converts to Christianity in Italy who decry their profound spiritual and human solitude in the face of absconding state institutions that do not protect them and the silence of the Church itself.

I hope that the Pope's historic gesture and my testimony will lead to the conviction that the time has come to leave the darkness of the catacombs and publicly to 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.

Magdi Allam

 

Wales 

When Synods 'fail'

John Richardson on the Governing Body of the Church in Wales


Yesterday (2 April) the Church in Wales narrowly voted down the consecration of women as bishops. For some, this will have come as a relief, for others, it clearly came as a disappointment. What is hard to understand, however, is the attitude of those in the Church, both there and elsewhere, for whom it has come as an outrage.

The Articles of the Church of England accept the fact that the Councils of the

Church sometimes get it wrong, even in matters of faith: 'when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining unto God' (Article 21).


Getting it right

However, it must equally be admitted that Synods and Councils sometimes get it right. Indeed, the presumption must be that they generally do, otherwise there would be every reason to disband synodical government entirely.

More than that, however, the act of gathering together with others and, above all, of taking decisions collectively (whether by voting or by some other means) is an important admission that I, or even I and people who think like me, may have got it wrong. That is why such gatherings, whether theybe General Synods or Parochial Church Councils, ought to be prayerful, and open to hear not just the voice of their members but the voice of God.

And hence, also, when the vote goes against me, or against my viewpoint, I must accept it graciously unless, that is, I can show that the body concerned is not, or at this point at least was not, governed with the Spirit and Word of God.'

Apparently, though, from reports in the press, that is precisely how some in Wales and elsewhere feel about the Synod's decision. The Revd Giles Fraser, not himself a Welsh resident, declared the decision an 'absolute disgrace'. The Archbishop of Wales, the Rt Revd Barry Morgan, confined himself to saying he was 'deeply disappointed', whilst Canon Mary Stallard, chaplain to the bishop of St Asaph, said, 'The moment will come back'


Or getting it wrong

Each of these, and others, however, ought to ask themselves if they seriously believe the Synod made a wrong decision, and if it did, why.

Surely, the point of a Synod is to discern what is right, and the presumption, as I have outlined above, must be that it usually does. In that case, the proper response to the vote on Tuesday by the proponents of women bishops ought to be whole-hearted acceptance, even if this is tinged with personal disappointment. This should be accompanied with a determination not simply to bring the issue back at a later date but to ask whether the proposed action is right at all. If the Synod says no, the presumption must be it has said no to the right thing.

The only alternative is to say that the Synod got it wrong, but as I have again outlined above, this is a very serious conclusion to reach, for it says, in effect, that the Synod was dominated by people who are 'not governed with the Spirit and Word of God' at least, not at this point. Of course, this may be true, but it would be a strange state of affairs if it turned out that every time the Synod voted against my views it was because the Synod was not open to God!

Of course, one suspects correction, one knows for sure that had the Synod voted in favour of women bishops, those same voices decrying its decision-making would have hailed it as listening to the Spirit. But if that is how they feel then they reveal that actually they have no real faith in the synodical process, but only in their own decision-making processes which the Synod, were it composed of people like themselves, would have nodded through.


An historical example

I am reminded of the words of a famous politician and statesman who was similarly frustrated by the 'parliamentary process':

Has there ever been a case where such an assembly has worthily appraised a great political concept before that concept was put into practice and its greatness openly demonstrated through its success?

He, too, mused about the consequences of failure:

What shall the statesman do if he does not succeed in coaxing the parliamentary multitude to give its consent to his policy? Shall he purchase that consent for some sort of consideration? Or, when confronted with the obstinate stupidity of his fellow citizens, should he then refrain from pushing forward the measures which he deems to be of vital necessity to the life of the nation?

That statesman was Adolf Hitler, which should, perhaps give us pause for thought.

John Richardson can be found at <http://ugleyvicar.blogspot.com>

 

Australia

Women bishops come

The Diocese of Perth has announced the consecration of a woman bishop after a meeting of bishops formulated protocols to provide alternative arrangements for those who object to such consecrations on biblical grounds.

The protocols were unanimously agreed to by all Australian bishops following a long but constructive debate during the bishops annual meeting in Newcastle this week.

The Diocese of Perth has now announced the consecration of Kay Goldsworthy on 22 May.

In adopting the 'Women in the Episcopate' protocol the bishops recognized 'the good faith' of those in the church who support the new development of women bishops and of those who find that they cannot do so.

They resolved to 'nurture the highest possible level of collegiality as bishops' in the future. The bishops agreed to make special provision in situations where the ministry of a woman bishop would not be welcome.

Although there was a ruling on the legality of women bishops last year, the Bishops had agreed at their last annual meeting not to move ahead on consecrating women to the episcopate until they had met this year to discuss the issue further.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, says 'I'm pleased that there has been considerable goodwill during the formation of these protocols. Action was needed to protect the consciences of those who believe, as we do, that the consecration of women bishops is against biblical teaching. There are strongly-held convictions which separate us but we have endeavoured to find a way forward with courtesy and respect.'

The Anglican Church League President Dr Mark Thomson says the action by the Perth diocese adds a new level of difficulty to the relationship between the various dioceses in the Anglican Church of Australia and raises a series of significant issues of conscience for those committed to living out the teaching of Scripture.

This piece first appeared in The Sydney Anglican |jyp|

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