"We Do Not Think the Church Merits the Accusation of Lack of Respect"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican Radio translation of a May 27 response from Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, to a note from Professor Aref Ali Nayed.
The professor, a representative of the 138 Muslim scholars who wrote the Pope and other Christian leaders regarding Muslim-Christian dialogue, expressed concerns about the Pope baptizing former Muslim Magdi Allam at the Easter vigil, and raised other issues as well.
Allam, a deputy editor of Italy's daily Corriere della Sera, published the testimony of his conversion, parts of which can be read at ZENIT's Web page.
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The note by Professor Aref Ali Nayed concerning the baptism administered by the Pope to Magdi Allam on the Easter vigil merits close consideration.
Let us, then, make a few observations.
Firstly, the most significant statement is without doubt the author's affirmation of his will to continue the dialogue toward a more profound mutual knowledge between Muslims and Christians. He in no way questions the journey that began with the correspondence and the contacts established over the last year and a half, between the Muslim signatories of the well-known letters and the Vatican, in particular through the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. This process must continue, it is extremely important, it must not be interrupted, and has priority over episodes that may be the subject of misunderstandings.
Secondly, administering baptism to someone implies a recognition that that person has freely and sincerely accepted the Christian faith in its fundamental articles, as expressed in the "profession of faith" which is publicly proclaimed during the ceremony of baptism. Of course, believers are free to maintain their own ideas on a vast range of questions and problems, on which legitimate pluralism exists among Christians. Welcoming a new believer into the Church clearly does not mean wedding all that person's ideas and opinions, especially on political and social matters.
The baptism of Magdi Cristiano Allam provides a good opportunity specifically to underline this fundamental principle. He has the right to express his own ideas. They remain his personal opinions without in any way becoming the official expression of the positions of the Pope or of the Holy See.
As for the debate concerning the Pope's lecture at Regensburg, explanations for interpreting it correctly in accordance with the Pope's intentions were given some time ago and there is no reason to question them once more. At the same time, some of the themes touched upon then, such as the relationship between faith and reason, between religion and violence, are naturally still the subject of reflection and debate, and of differing points of view, because they concern problems that cannot be resolved once and for all.
Thirdly, the liturgy of the Easter vigil was celebrated as it is every year, and the symbolism of light and darkness has always been a part of it. It is a solemn liturgy and its celebration by the Pope in St. Peter's Square is a very special occasion. But to accuse the Pope's explanation of the liturgical symbols -- something he always does and in which he is a master -- of "Manichaeism" reveals perhaps a misunderstanding of Catholic liturgy rather than a pertinent criticism of Benedict XVI's words.
Finally, let us in turn express our own displeasure at what Professor Nayed says concerning education in Christian schools in Muslim-majority countries, where he objects to the risk of proselytism. We feel that the Catholic Church's great educational efforts, also in countries with a non-Christian majority (not just Egypt but also India, Japan, etc.) where for a very long time the majority of students in Catholic schools and universities are non-Christian and have happily remained so (while showing great appreciation for the education they have received), deserves a quite different evaluation. We do not think the Church today merits the accusation of lack of respect for the dignity and freedom of the human person; these suffer entirely different violations to which priority attention must be given. Perhaps the Pope accepted the risk of this baptism also for this reason: to affirm the freedom of religious choice which derives from the dignity of the human person.
In any case, Professor Aref Ali Nayed is an interlocutor for whom we maintain the highest respect and with whom a faithful exchange of views is always worthwhile. This allows us to trust in the continuation of dialogue.