, Mar 24, 2008 (CNA) - A day after he was received into the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XVI during the Easter vigil, Magdi Allam, a widely known Italian Muslim, wrote a letter to his own paper on Easter Sunday in which he issued a twofold call: first to he encouraged other Muslims who have converted to Catholicism to come out publicly and secondly he called on the Church to be “less prudent” about converting Muslims.
The 55-year-old Egyptian-born convert is deputy editor of “Corriere della Sera,” one of Italy’s leading newspapers, and often writes on Muslim and Arab affairs.
In 2006, when Pope Benedict made his Regensburg speech that many Muslims perceived as depicting Islam as a violent faith, Allam defended the Pontiff’s remarks.
He also infuriated some fellow Muslims with his criticism of extremism and support for Israel.
His criticism of Palestinian suicide bombings generated threats on his life in 2003, prompting the Italian government to provide him with a sizeable police protection force.
Allam said at that time that he had continually asked himself why someone who had struggled for what he called "moderate Islam" was then "condemned to death in the name of Islam and on the basis of a Koranic legitimization."
Word of the conversion of a high profile Muslim was only made known on Saturday when the Vatican announced that one of the seven Catechumens to be received in to the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict at the Easter vigil was Muslim.
Although Allam never prayed five times a day facing Mecca and never fasted during Ramadan, as is required of all Muslims, he did make the pilgrimage to Mecca with his deeply religious mother in 1991.
Reacting to his conversion, the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy –which Allam have accused as having links to Hamas- said “he is an adult, free to make his personal choice.”
But Yahya Pallavicini, an Italian Catholic who turned to Islam and is now vice president of 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," Pallavicini told ANSA news agency.
In his “letter to the editor” published on Sunday by Corriere de la Sera, Allam explains that it was a meeting with the Holy Father which allowed him “to see the light, by divine grace, as the healthy and ripe fruit of a long process.”
Allam also explains that his decision came “as a gradual and deep interior meditation that I could not avoid, considering that, for five years, I have been living a shielded life,” in reference to the police protection.
“Yesterday has been the most beautiful day of my life, when I chose the most simple and explicit name. Since yesterday, my name is Magdi Christian Allam,” he wrote.
Explaining the stages of his conversion, Allam said that “at some point I had to take action” after discovering that “the roots of evil are intrinsic to Islam, that [it] is physiologically violent and historically conflictive.”
The convert also gave thanks to “the embrace of high prelates of great humanity,” mentioning Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and “especially Bishop Rino Fisichella who has personally followed me on the spiritual road to accepting the faith.”
Bishop Fisichella is the Auxiliary Bishop of Rome and President of the Pontifical Lateran University.
But Allam says that the most decisive factor was his meeting with the Pope “whom I have admired and defended as a Muslim for his brilliance in presenting the indissoluble link between faith and reason as the foundation of true religion.”
He praised the Pontiff for agreeing “to personally give me the Sacraments,” thus launching “an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church up to now too prudent regarding the conversion of Muslims.”
Addressing Corriere’s editor in chief Paolo Mieli, Allam writes: “you have asked me if I fear for my life. You are right. I realize what I am going up against, but I will confront my fate with my head high, with my back straight and the interior strength of one who is certain about his faith.”
According to Allam, in Italy “there are thousands of converts to Islam who peacefully live their faith. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts who are constrained to hide their new faith.”
In his open letter, he finally expresses his hope that these former Muslims “from the Pope’s historic gesture and my testimony may be convinced that the time has come to come out from the shadows of the catacombs.”
Denver, Colo., Mar 24, 2008 (CNA) - An investigation that likely would have led to criminal charges against four Mormon missionaries who desecrated a Catholic shrine in 2006, has been stopped by local authorities following a request made during Holy Week by the Catholic community of Costilla County, in the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado.
Cpl. Scott Powell, the investigating officer in charge of the case, confirmed on Good Friday that the Costilla County Sheriff's Office will not continue looking into the actions of four missionaries who allegedly mocked the Catholic Church and vandalized a holy shrine in San Luis, Colorado's oldest town.
Photographs taken in August 2006 and discovered on the Internet by a Sangre de Cristo parishioner earlier this month, show the Mormon missionaries preaching behind a church altar while waving a Book of Mormon, pretending to sacrifice one another and holding the head of a statue of a Mexican martyr, whom the missionary shown in the picture claimed to have decapitated. The mocking took place at All Saints Chapel and the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs in San Luis.
Officials with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have publicly apologized to the San Luis community for the actions of the three young men in the photos and announced that all of them have been disciplined.
In an Easter letter released to "The Pueblo Chieftain" last Tuesday, Bishop Tafoya wrote asking that "we as Catholics, who believe in the forgiveness of Christ, will ourselves forgive, and pray for the young men who showed such a lack of tolerance and understanding."
"I especially ask the members of the San Luis community to help the healing process by removing any anger that exists in their hearts. This is the time that we can show our love of Christ by forgiving and loving our neighbors," he wrote.
"To go to heaven -the Bishop added, - we must believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and to do what he has asked us to do. One of the things that he has asked is that we forgive those who have sinned against us."
In response to the Bishop's request, the parish council took a vote and recommended on Thursday afternoon, before celebrating the Mass of the Institution of the Eucharist, that no charges be filed against the young men.
Cpl. Powell said that based on what he was discovering in his investigation, charges "very easily could have been brought" against the young men.
"It's moot at this point," he said. "When that recommendation came from the church, everything stopped."
"We are very, very grateful," said Robert Fotheringham, who is in charge of the Mormon church's missionary program in a four state region that includes the San Luis Valley.
"The people we dealt with are big-spirited, and I'm frankly not surprised," he added.
Vatican City, Mar 24, 2008 (CNA) - The situation of China’s Roman Catholics was at the heart of the celebrations for the Holy Triduum at the Vatican, with a group of Chinese people being present and decorations appearing at different moments during the Church’s three holiest days.
On Good Friday, the first of the three days, the meditations for the Way of the Cross at the Roman Coliseum were given by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun of Hong Kong.
A brochure published by the Vatican to accompany the event was illustrated with Chinese artworks representing each of the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Also, a Chinese man and woman were scheduled to pass the Cross to the Pope at the 12th station. The Pontiff would carry it for the final three stations. Nevertheless, because of the heavy rain, the Cross was carried during the final leg by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's Vicar for the City of Rome.
The meditations for the Via Crucis written by Cardinal Zen evoked the suffering and sacrifice of modern day martyrs who are persecuted for the faith.
In his meditation for the first station –“Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane,” Cardinal Zen quoted Pope Benedict's 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics, which recalls that in many parts of the world, the Church “is going through the dark times of persecution.”
In his meditation for the fifth station -"Jesus before Pontius Pilate”- the Chinese prelate prayed that God would awaken the consciences of the many people in power so that they “recognize the innocence of (Christ's) followers. Give them courage to respect religious freedom.”
Even though China was not specifically mentioned during the meditations, Cardinal Zen told Vatican Radio that, by selecting him for the job, “the Holy Father wants Chinese Catholics to be very much present at the heart of the Universal Church.”
Finally, during the Easter vigil on Saturday, one of the seven adults Pope Benedict received into the Church through the Sacrament of Baptism was Chinese.
The Vatican has not had official diplomatic relations with China since 1951, but according to the Rome-based news agency I.Media, a group of Chinese officials traveled to Rome and held meetings with Vatican authorities on Tuesday of Holy Week. The unconfirmed talks were planned long before the outbreak of violence in Tibet, the agency said.
The Vatican has been looking to reestablish diplomatic relationships with Beijing, but is not willing to accept one of the preconditions demanded by the Communist government: that bishops be chosen and approved by local authorities instead of the Holy Father.
, Mar 24, 2008 (CNA) - The Colombian daily “El Tiempo” revealed on Holy Saturday that a crisis that could have ended in an open conflict between Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela was averted by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe confiding the situation to the intercession of Mary under the three different titles by which she is the country’s patroness.
The crisis between Colombia and its southern (Ecuador) and northeastern (Venezuela) neighbors started On March 1, when Uribe ordered a military raid into Ecuador's territory against a rebel camp used by Marxist guerrillas to launch terrorist strikes. The raid targeted and killed the No. 2 FARC rebel leader, Raul Reyes.
In response, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa cut all diplomatic relationships with Colombia. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Correa’s political ally, ordered a massive military surge to the Colombian border as well.
Quoting Fr. Julio Solórzano, Chaplain of Colombia’s Presidential Palace, El Tiempo revealed that on March 5, when the rhetoric and blames between the presidents was increasing tensions, President Uribe called for a Rosary to pray for the end of tensions.
The Rosary, prayed at the Presidential Palace’s chapel, was dedicated, upon Uribe’s request, to the Marian to Our Lady of Chiquinquira, Our Lady of Coromoto and Our Lady of Mercy, respectively the patronesses of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
Uribe invited all officials at the Presidential palace to the Rosary, as well as the minister of Defense and the Interior.
“For believers –El Tiempo wrote- the prayer was more than effective, since only two days after the presidents of the three countries shook hands during the Group of Rio summit, and for many the crisis was over.”
In fact, on April 7, at the Dominican Republic summit, the three presidents vented their differences, but agreed to stand down after Colombia apologized for the raid.
“The President is a man of faith, he always carries with him a wooden Cross and a Rosary. I have heard him pray several times in the motorcade or on the presidential airplane.” “He always tries to be coherent with his faith in his work, pleasing God with what he does,” Fr. Solórzano was quoted by the “El Tiempo.”
Chicago, Ill., Mar 24, 2008 (CNA) - Six people protesting the war in Iraq were arrested after they disrupted an Easter Mass at Chicago’s cathedral and threw fake blood at parishioners, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The protesters stood and shouted at the beginning of Cardinal Francis George’s homily in the auditorium at Holy Name Cathedral. As ushers and security guards tried to remove them from the area, the protesters squirted fake blood on themselves and parishioners dressed in their Easter best.
Some of the 600 worshippers in attendance booed the protesters. The demonstrators, who call themselves “Catholic Schoolgirls for Peace,” chanted as they were removed, saying, "Even the pope calls for peace."
“And so should we all,” said Cardinal George, drawing strong applause.
A small number of worshippers followed the protesters into the lobby to berate them for their actions.
"Are you happy with yourselves?" Mike Wainscott of Chicago shouted at the demonstrators as they were being handcuffed. "There were kids in there. You scared little kids with your selfish act. Are you happy now?"
The six protesters, ranging in age from 18 to 25, were all charged with felony criminal damage to property and two counts of simple battery for squirting the blood around the auditorium.
A statement issued Sunday afternoon by Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War said it protested at the cathedral "to reach both Holy Name's large Easter audience—including Chicago's most prominent Catholic citizens, who commonly attend Easter mass at the church—and the many more viewers and readers of the local press, which usually extensively covers their services."
According to the Chicago Tribune, the statement praised the protesters’ efforts to remind the churchgoers of a January 7 meeting between Cardinal George, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and President George W. Bush, whom the statement described as the "principal public figure responsible for initiating the carnage in Iraq."
Kevin Clark of the International Solidarity Movement attended the service to serve as a witness for the protesters. "If Cardinal George is a man of peace and is walking the walk and talking the talk, he should have confronted George Bush and demanded an immediate end to the war," Clark said.
After the Mass, the Chicago Tribune reports that Cardinal George reiterated the Catholic Church’s opposition to the war, but he said Easter Mass was not the place to protest the U.S.-led invasion, whose fifth anniversary was marked last week.
"We should all work for peace," George said, "but not by interrupting the worship of God."
Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2008 (CNA) - As Christians around the United States celebrate Easter, President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush have issued the following Easter message:
Laura and I send greetings to all those celebrating the joyful holiday of Easter.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ reminds people around the world of the presence of a faithful God who offers a love more powerful than death. Easter commemorates our Savior's triumph over sin, and we take joy in spending this special time with family and friends and reflecting on the many blessings that fill our lives. During this season of renewal, let us come together and give thanks to the Almighty who made us in His image and redeemed us in His love.
On this glorious day, we remember our brave men and women in uniform who are separated from their families by great distances. We pray for their safety and strength, and we honor those who gave their lives to advance peace and secure liberty across the globe.
Happy Easter. May God bless you, and may God bless our great Nation.
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies." John 11:25
GEORGE W. BUSH
Berlin, Germany, Mar 24, 2008 (CNA) - After “blowing away” music executives with their performance of Gregorian plainchant, a group of Austrian monks has been given a record deal with Universal Music, the Independent reports.
Universal had been persuaded that there was a market for albums of Gregorian chant by the success of the video game Halo. The game, which has sold over 16 million copies, uses in its soundtrack a plainchant sung by male choirs without musical accompaniment.
Dickon Stainer, head of Universal Classics and Jazz, said, "Young people have an awareness of Gregorian chant, even though it's not something you come across in everyday life. It made us think that there was something in it."
The music company placed an advertisement in The Tablet and The Church Times seeking “men of the cloth” to sing on an album of Gregorian chants.
After a contact in London informed the Cistercian monks of Holy Cross monastery about Universal’s search for Gregorian singers, the 80 monks compiled a clip of their singing and put it on YouTube as an audition.
The professionally edited video begins with a shot of altar candles and then switches to images of monks clad in white habits walking in double file through the ancient cloisters. The video closes in a picturesque aerial shot of the Holy Cross abbey, set deep in the Austrian woods.
"I was blown away by the quality of their singing," said Tom Lewis, an executive at Universal. "They are quite simply the best Gregorian singers we have heard. They make a magical sound which is calming and deeply moving. They are using the very latest communication devices to get their music heard. They're very passionate and excited about this opportunity."
Lewis said the company had received hundreds of videos in response to its advertisements, but the Cistercians were the clear winners.
The monks have described their success as “divine intervention.” They were scheduled to record an album last year, but the recording session was cancelled after it conflicted with a visit to the monastery by Pope Benedict XVI.
The monastery, which dates back to 1133, has been famous for its relic of the True Cross.
Father Karl, a spokesman for the abbey, welcomed the news. "Gregorian chant is part of spirituality and our life," he said, according to the Independent. "Any profits will be spent on training future brothers."
Gregorian Chant, which is named for Pope Gregory I, had some popularity in the 1990s and was featured in several successful CDs by the group Enigma.
Harare, Zimbabwe, Mar 24, 2008 (CNA) - With elections in the beleaguered African country of Zimbabwe less than one week away, Archbishop Pius Ncube has admitted to committing adultery, according to Frontier Africa TV.
Prior to the allegations of a two year sexual affair with Mrs. Rosemary Sibanda, the archbishop was the most vocal opponent of President Robert Mugabe.
On September 11, 2007, the Vatican press office released a letter written by the archbishop in which he wrote that he offered his resignation to Vatican officials in July to prevent the Church’s image from being tarnished. "In order to spare my fellow bishops and the body of the Church any further attacks, I decided this was the best course of action," he wrote.
Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Archbishop Ncube under Canon 410.2, which allows a bishop to resign if he becomes ill or for some grave reason becomes incapable of continuing his ministry.
At the time of his resignation Archbishop Ncube did not admit to committing adultery, but in an interview he gave to Frontier Africa TV in November 2007, the prelate admitted to breaking his vow of celibacy and offered an apology to the Church.
"It is true, I do admit that I did fail in keeping God's commandment with regard to adultery," admitted Pius Ncube in the interview.” "Having failed in keeping the Seventh Commandment Thou shalt not commit adultery, I would like to apologize to you, I'd like to apologize that so many of you were praying for me, for the fact that so many of you standing with me in fact suffered so much," he said.
Elections in Zimbabwe will take place on March 29, but few expect them to be free or fair.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of Morgan Tsvangirai, a presidential candidate, charged on Monday that the Mugabe government printed nine million election ballots although there are only 5.9 million eligible voters. President Mugabe fired back that Tsvangirai is a British puppet and said the MDC founder would never be allowed to govern.
A clip of the interview on Frontier Africa TV can be found at: http://frontier-africa.tv/film/Pius%20Ncube/
San Jose, Calif., Mar 24, 2008 (CNA) - California Democrats gathering for their state convention this weekend will have a special Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph just a half-mile from the convention site, the California Catholic Daily reports.
The Mass is sponsored by the Catholic Democrats of California, the state affiliate of a national, Boston-based group called Catholic Democrats.
The California group, describing itself on its web site, said, “We have brought together people across the country who share an aversion to the current abuses of US military power, the exploitation of social issues to advance the economic interests of a few, and the misuse of our Catholic faith for political gain.”
“Because conservatives have increasingly used Catholic language and Catholic congregations to advance their economic agenda and political interests,” the group continued, “we have felt a special obligation as Catholics to enunciate the reasons why we think many of the current conservatives stances are so antithetical to the Catholic ethos -- on poverty, on war, on racial strife, and perhaps especially on abortion and other social issues.”
The proposed platform of the California Democratic Party addresses abortion under the euphemism of “reproductive rights,” saying the state party “proudly and vigorously supports a woman’s right to choose how to use her mind, her body and her time.” The draft pledges support for “confidential, unrestricted” access to “health and reproductive services,” such as contraception and emergency contraception, without parental consent or notification.
The platform also says California Democrats “support the LGBT community in its quest for the right to legal marriage.”
The Mass for Catholic Democrats is scheduled for Saturday, March 29 at 7:15 a.m. It will be celebrated by Father Jon Pedigo, pastor of a San Jose parish.
According to the California Catholic Daily, an announcement of the Mass on the California group’s web site said, “Join us as we come together to share the social justice teachings of Catholic Democrats”.