It was the best day of my life. Receiving the gift of the Christian faith on the day of Christ’s Resurrection from the hand of the Holy Father is a matchless privilege and inestimable blessing. For me, at the age of almost 56, it was a unique, unforgettable historic event that signalled a radical, definitive change with respect to the past. During the night of 22 March 2008, on the occasion of the Easter Vigil, at the solemn liturgy celebrated in the magnificence of the Basilica of St Peter’s, the cradle of Catholicism, I was reborn in Christ. At the end of a long, protracted struggle, lived out as a Muslim by reason of the legacy inherited from my parents and with a personal history of lacerating doubts and torments, there ignited within me, by divine will and responsible choice, the light of the true Christian faith. My spiritual metamorphosis unfolded from nine o’clock over three hours that seemed as if they would never end. I passed those hours in uncontrollable excitement, outwardly betrayed by my tingling nerves, over the radical nature of the life experience that was taking place inside me and, I admit, in part because of the cold that gripped me and stayed with me from the beginning of the imposing ceremony in the atrium of the Basilica, accompanied by rain and icy temperatures.
Inside the Basilica, the lights had been extinguished. I was outside with six other adult catachumens waiting to receive the sacraments of Christian initiation, seated on the part of the parvis most exposed to the wind. It was in that damp cold, which usually makes me a little agitated and means I have to concentrate more to listen, reflect, assess and elaborate concepts, that I began to relive the film of my inner life. Half a century was reviewed frame by frame and sliced up with the now uncompromising, now compassionate scalpel of religion, calm enough for one last unconscious confirmation of a decision already taken consciously yet at the same time with sufficient urgency to recompose the overall framework of my existence into a harmonious whole, joyfully to register the image of the long-awaited, soon to be accomplished, Event, as I reinterpreted my past while redefining and revolutionising my future. (...) From the atrium, Benedict XVI led the procession towards the altar after the deacon, chanting the Lumen Christi for the third time, had brought the splendour of light back to the Basilica.
Then began the crucial stage of my conversion to Christianity, to which evidently I was called by the grace of God that had accompanied me from my youngest days, bringing into my path a series of “coincidences” that were anything but fortuitous, concealing as they did the will of the Lord that discreetly comes to meet us without making its presence palpable. As I slowly walked down the nave at the rear of the procession, my mind at once went back to the key event that started me on the route of interior spirituality at the age of four, and would more than half a century later culminate in my conversion to Christ. It was September 1956. I still have clear in my mind the day on which my long travails began. I had burst into tears as my mother Safeya, aided and persuaded by the Caccias, the family of wealthy Italian textile magnates resident for generations in my native Cairo, handed me over to Sister Lavinia. She hid me under her habit so I would not see my mother entrusting me to the education and affection of the Combonian sisters and their devotion to St Joseph. Later on, from the last year of primary school to the last year of my scientific secondary school, I studied at the Salesian Don Bosco Institute.
For fourteen years, I lived in boarding schools run by Catholic religious orders (...) I was able to gain first-hand experience of the lives of women and men who had chosen to devote their lives to God in the Church by serving their neighbours, regardless of religion or nationality, and who bore witness to their Christian faith in works for the common good and the interest of the community. There I began to read the Bible and the Gospels with interest and involvement, particularly enthralled by the human and divine figure of Jesus. I was able to attend the church of St Joseph opposite the Combonian sisters’ school and the church of Don Bosco at the Salesian Institute. Every so often, I went to holy mass and once I actually approached the altar and received communion. From the religious point of view, it was an act without significance since I hadn’t been christened but it clearly signalled my attraction for Christianity and my desire to feel myself part of the Catholic community. (...) My conversion did not come about in a flash after some traumatic, joyful or sad event, nor was it merely a rational adherence prompted by reading sacred texts, or a purely intellectual confrontation with supporters or opponents of the Catholic faith.
Instead conversion was the ripe fruit of a long journey through a life of study and direct familiarity with the sources of wisdom but above all, with experiences of otherness that involved me entirely, slowly laying down in my soul and mind ever thicker layers of spiritual and rational adherence to the love and faith of Jesus. (...) Finally came the crucial moment of Baptism. I was being reborn in Christ and was about to take my first steps as an authentic Christian. I stood up and walked to the baptismal font, accompanied by my godfather. For the first time, I stood before Benedict XVI. I knew that at that precise moment, the destiny assigned to me by divine grace fifty-six years earlier, from my birth, was being fulfilled. I bowed with the respect and humility of a believer in the religious primacy of the Pope as Christ’s vicar on earth. I approached the font, stooped and Benedict XVI poured the blessed water over my head. “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”. (...)
The moments immediately preceding my baptism and the baptism itself I experienced as an authentic liberation. For fifty-six years, I perceived myself as a Muslim and others around me identified me as a Muslim. At the age of fifty-six, I was born again as a Christian, cancelling out the Islamic identity that I have consciously and deliberately rejected. Inside me and outside, everything will change. Nothing will remain as it was before. For those who, like me, consider religious faith and the sphere of absolute, universal, transcendent values to be the foundation of life, thought and action, adherence to Christianity takes the form of a radical change in the whole of personality and existence. Naturally, it will take some time for this adherence to faith in Jesus to grow increasingly full and heartfelt. I feel like a child taking his first hesitant steps in his new Christian life. But I have a great desire to walk and run as a Christian! Thank you, Jesus.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Convert Baptized by Pope Writes Book
Here are some excerpts which were published in Corriere della Sera from Magdi Christiano Allam's new book “Grazie Gesù. La mia conversione dall'islam al cattolicesimo” [Thank You Jesus. My Conversion from Islam to Christianity] . In the book, Allam, who converted from Islam to Catholicism recounts his road to conversion. In these excerpts he describes his baptism: