Sunday, November 30, 2008

Egyptian-born commentator baptized by pope in high-profile conversion enters Italian politics

ROME (AP) _ An Egyptian-born writer who renounced Islam and was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that he has formed a political party that would enter candidates in next year's EU elections.

Magdi Cristiano Allam said his "Protagonists for Christian Europe" party would work to defend Europe's Christian values, which he sees threatened by secularism and moral relativism. He said his new party would be open to people of all faiths and would be close to the conservative European People's Party.

Allam built his career in Italy as commentator and book author attacking Islamic extremism and supporting Israel.

In March, Allam angered some in the Muslim world with a high-profile conversion during an Easter vigil service led by the pope in St. Peter's Basilica.

Allam, who took the name Cristiano upon converting, has credited Benedict with being instrumental in his decision to become a Catholic and has said the pope had baptized him to support freedom of religion.

The 56-year-old Allam has lived most of his adult life in Italy, becoming a citizen in 1986. In recent years he was given a police escort after receiving death threats from radical Islamic groups.

While working to encourage tolerance between cultures he has also grown increasingly critical of his former faith.

He said in leading daily Corriere della Sera, where he has worked as deputy editor, that the "root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictual."

By Associated Press
Nov. 30, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pope Questions Interfaith Dialogue
By RACHEL DONADIO (from New York Times)
Published: November 23, 2008

ROME — In comments on Sunday that could have broad implications in a period of intense religious conflict, Pope Benedict XVI cast doubt on the possibility of interfaith dialogue but called for more discussion of the practical consequences of religious differences.

The pope’s comments came in a letter he wrote to Marcello Pera, an Italian center-right politician and scholar whose forthcoming book, “Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian,” argues that Europe should stay true to its Christian roots. A central theme of Benedict’s papacy has been to focus attention on the Christian roots of an increasingly secular Europe.

In quotations from the letter that appeared on Sunday in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily newspaper, the pope said the book “explained with great clarity” that “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, added the pope, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”

But Benedict added that “intercultural dialogue which deepens the cultural consequences of basic religious ideas” was important. He called for confronting “in a public forum the cultural consequences of basic religious decisions.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope’s comments seemed intended to draw interest to Mr. Pera’s book, not to cast doubt on the Vatican’s many continuing interreligious dialogues.

“He has a papacy known for religious dialogue; he went to a mosque, he’s been to synagogues,” Father Lombardi said. “This means that he thinks we can meet and talk to the others and have a positive relationship.”

To some scholars, the pope’s remarks seemed aimed at pushing more theoretical interreligious conversations into the practical realm.

“He’s trying to get the Catholic-Islamic dialogue out of the clouds of theory and down to brass tacks: how can we know the truth about how we ought to live together justly, despite basic creedal differences?” said George Weigel, a Catholic scholar and biographer of Pope John Paul II.
This month, the Vatican held a conference with Muslim religious leaders and scholars aimed at improving ties. The conference participants agreed to condemn terrorism and protect religious freedom, but they did not address issues of conversion and of the rights of Christians in majority Muslim countries to worship.

The church is also engaged in dialogue with Muslims organized by the king of Saudi Arabia, a country where non-Muslims are forbidden from worshiping in public.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pope Says Catholics In Politics Must Follow Faith
By The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI is encouraging Catholics who get involved in politics to stay true to their church's teaching.

Benedict says it is necessary that a new generation of Catholics in politics be "coherent" with the faith they profess.

He also recommends that they act with moral rigor and work passionately for the common good.
The pope urged Vatican officials in a speech Saturday to be vigilant about the evangelical education of Catholics who get so involved in society.

Benedict recently said religion and politics should be "open to each other."

The Vatican is particularly attentive to political action about abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Pope says Catholics in politics must follow faith
Sat Nov 15, 1:01 pm ET

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI is encouraging Catholics who get involved in politics to stay true to their church's teaching.

Benedict says it is necessary that a new generation of Catholics in politics be "coherent" with the faith they profess.

He also recommends that they act with moral rigor and work passionately for the common good.
The pope urged Vatican officials in a speech Saturday to be vigilant about the evangelical education of Catholics who get so involved in society.

Benedict recently said religion and politics should be "open to each other."
The Vatican is particularly attentive to political action about abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why I Went to Meet the Pope

LONDON -- Now that the shock waves touched off by Pope Benedict XVI's remarks at Regensburg on Sept., 12, 2006 have subsided, the overall consequences have proven more positive than negative. Above and beyond polemics, the pope's lecture has heightened general awareness of their respective responsibilities among Christians and Muslims in the West.

It matters little whether the pope had simply misspoken or, as the highest-ranking authority of the Catholic Church, was enunciating church policy. Now the issue is one of identifying those areas in which a full-fledged debate between Catholicism and Islam must take place. Papal references to "jihad" and "Islamic violence" came as a shock to Muslims, even though they were drawn from a quotation attributed to Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos.

It is clear that the time has come to open debate on the common theological underpinnings and the shared foundations of the two religions. The appeal by Muslim religious leaders, "A Common Word," had precisely this intention: our traditions have the same source, the same single God who calls upon us to respect human dignity and liberty.

These same traditions raise identical questions concerning the ultimate purpose of human activity, and respect for ethical principles.

In a world that is experiencing an unprecedented global crisis, a world in which politics, finance and relations between humans and the environment suffer from a cruel lack of conscience and ethical integrity, it is a matter of greatest urgency that Christian-Muslim dialogue turn its attention to both theological issues and to those of values and ultimate aims.

Our task is not to create a new religious alliance against the "secularized" and "immoral" world order, but to make a constructive contribution to the debate, to prevent the logic of economics and war from destroying what remains of our common humanity.

Our constructive dialogue on shared values and ultimate goals is far more vital and imperative than our rivalries over the number of believers, our contradictory claims about proselytism and sterile competition over exclusive possession of the truth.

Those dogma-ridden individuals who, in both religions, claim truth for themselves are, in fact, working against their respective beliefs.

Whoever claims that he/she alone possesses the truth, that "falsehood belongs to everybody else…" has already fallen into error. Our dialogue must resist the temptation of dogmatism by drawing upon a comprehensive, critical and constantly respectful confrontation of ideas.
Ours must be a dialogue whose seriousness requires of us, above all else, humility.

We must delve deep into history the better to engage a true dialogue of civilizations. Fear of the present can impose upon the past its own biased vision. Surprisingly, the pope asserted that Europe's roots were Greek and Christian, as if responding to the perceived threat of the Muslim presence in Europe.

His reading, as I noted after the lecture at Regensburg, is a reductive one.

We must return to the factual reality of the past, to the history of ideas. When we do so, it quickly becomes clear that the so-called opposition between the West and the Muslim world is pure projection, an ideological instrument if you will, designed to construct entities that can be opposed or invited to dialogue, depending on circumstances.

But the West has been shaped by Muslims, just as the Muslim world has been shaped by the West; it is imperative that a critical internal process of reflection begin: that the West and Europe initiate an internal debate, exactly as must Islam and the Muslims, with a view to reconciling themselves with the diversity and the plurality of their respective pasts.

The debate between faith and reason, and over the virtues of rationalism, is a constant in both civilizations, and is, as such, far from exclusive to the Greek or Christian heritage. Neither is it the sole prerogative of the Enlightenment.

The pope's remarks at Regensburg have opened up new areas of inquiry that must be explored and exploited in a positive way, with a view to building bridges and, working hand-in-hand, to seek a common response to the social, cultural and economic challenges of our day.

It is in this spirit that I participated on Nov. 4-6 in Rome, and in a meeting with the pope on Nov. 6. Our task was to assume our respective and shared responsibilities, and to commit ourselves to working for a more just world, in full respect of beliefs and liberties.

It is essential, then, to speak of freedom of conscience, of places of worship, of the "argument of reciprocity"; all questions are possible in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and respect.

Still, it is essential that each of us sit down at the table with the humility that consists of not assuming that we alone possess the truth; with the respect that requires that we listen to our neighbors and recognize their differences; and, finally, the coherence that summons each of us to maintain a critical outlook in accepting the contradictions that may exist between the message and the practice of believers.

These are the essential elements to be respected if we are to succeed.
Tariq Ramadan is a professor of Islamic studies and senior research fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford University and at Lokahi Foundation in London. He is also president of the European think tank, the European Muslim Network (EMN), in Brussels.

For more information about "A Common Word" please visit
Source:, 4 November 2008,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Christianity Not for Couch Potatoes, Says Pope
Offers Both Cross and Resurrection to Believers

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 5, 2008 (

Christianity is not a comfortable faith, but it has the hope of the Resurrection, Benedict XVI says.

The Pope affirmed this today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square, which he dedicated to a continuing reflection on St. Paul. Today, the Holy Father spoke of the Resurrection as the central point in Pauline theology.

He began his address citing a passage from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: "And if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. … You are still in your sins." "With these heavy words […] St. Paul makes clear how decisive is the importance that he attributes to the resurrection of Jesus," the Pontiff said.

"In this event, in fact, is the solution to the problem that the drama of the cross implies. On its own, the cross could not explain Christian faith; on the contrary, it would be a tragedy, a sign of the absurdity of being. […]

"Here is the central key to Pauline Christology: Everything revolves around this gravitational center point. The whole teaching of the Apostle Paul departs from and always arrives at the mystery of the One whom the Father has risen from the dead."

Linked in

Benedict XVI said that Paul's preaching of the Resurrection was always linked to the tradition of the first Christian communities."

Here one can truly see the importance of the tradition that preceded the Apostle and that he, with great respect and attention, wanted in turn to convey," he said.

"The text on the Resurrection, contained in Chapter 15:1-11 of the First Letter to the Corinthians, emphasizes well the nexus between 'receive' and 'transmit.' "

St. Paul attributes great importance to the literal formulation of tradition; the end of the fragment we are examining highlights: 'Whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed,' thus spotlighting the unity of the kerygma, of the proclamation for all believers and for all those who would announce the resurrection of Christ."

Thus, the originality of Paul's Christology "is never in detriment to fidelity to tradition," the Pope affirmed.

"And in this way, Paul offers a model for all times of how to do theology and how to preach. The theologian and the preacher do not create new visions of the world and of life, but rather are at the service of the truth transmitted, at the service of the real fact of Christ, of the cross, of the resurrection. Their duty is to help to understand today, behind the ancient words, the reality of 'God with us,' and therefore, the reality of true life."

Modern consequences

The Holy Father said that Paul's emphasis on the Resurrection and his proclamation of that fundamental Christian truth has "important consequences for our life of faith."

He explained: "We are called to participate from the depths of our being in the whole of the event of the death and resurrection of Christ. The Apostle says: We 'have died with Christ' and we believe 'that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.'

"This translates into sharing the sufferings of Christ, as a prelude to this full configuration with him through the resurrection, which we gaze upon with hope."

Paul also shared in sufferings with the hope of the resurrection, the Pontiff noted. "The theology of the cross is not a theory -- it is a reality of Christian life. To live in faith in Jesus Christ, to live truth and love implies renunciations every day; it implies sufferings. Christianity is not a path of comfort; it is rather a demanding ascent, but enlightened with the light of Christ and with the great hope that is born from him."

In fact, he continued, citing St. Augustine "Christians are not spared suffering; on the contrary, they get a little extra."

But, the Bishop of Rome affirmed, it is "only in this way, experiencing suffering, [that] we experience life in its depth, in its beauty, in the great hope elicited by Christ, crucified and risen."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Muslims seek crisis management plan with Vatican
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Muslim scholars due to meet Pope Benedict and Roman Catholic officials this week hope the Vatican will agree to joint crisis management plan to defuse tensions that flare up between Christianity and Islam.

Violent protests in the Islamic world after a Danish newspaper printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad might have been averted if Christians and Muslims had spoken out jointly against such unrest and the provocation behind it, they say.

This proposal is one of several ideas for better interfaith cooperation that the Common Word group, a broad coalition of Muslim leaders and scholars pursuing dialogue between the world's two largest religions, will present at the November- 4-6 talks.

"We should develop a crisis reaction mechanism so if there is another cartoon crisis, we could get together and make a joint statement," said Ibrahim Kalin, an Islam scholar from Turkey who is spokesman for the group.

They would also speak out against religious persecution such as the oppression of Iraq's Christian minority, said delegation member Sohail Nakhooda, editor of the Amman-based magazine Islamica. "We have to look out for each other," he said.

The Common Word manifesto, which invited Christian churches to a new interfaith dialogue based on shared principles of love of God and neighbor, was issued in October 2007 partly in response to Pope Benedict's Regensburg speech a year earlier.

Bloody protests broke out in Muslim countries after Benedict hinted there that he considered Islam a violent and irrational faith. The Common Word group said the incident revealed such mutual ignorance that a new cooperation drive was needed.

In meetings this year with mostly Protestant leaders, Common Word delegates have proposed regular dialogue sessions, student exchanges, suggested reading lists and other ideas to help Christians and Muslims learn more about each other.


Kalin, an Islamic studies professor at Georgetown University in Washington, said cooperation between churches and mosques in the Netherlands defused tensions before far-right politician Geert Wilders released his anti-Islam film Fitna early this year.

"That was the first fruit of the kind of cooperation we want to have," he said.

The Common Word manifesto, which now has 271 signatories, brings together leading Muslim officials and scholars from around the world. Its 24-member delegation to the Vatican talks will be led by Grand Mufti of Bosnia Mustafa Ceric.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, will head the Catholic delegation made up of 24 Vatican officials and Catholic experts on Islam.

Christianity has about two billion followers worldwide, just over half of them Catholic, while Muslims number 1.3 billion.

The delegations will hold closed-door talks on theology on Tuesday and issues of mutual respect on Wednesday, including the question of religious freedom in Muslim countries that the Vatican is especially keen to discuss.

They will have an audience with Pope Benedict on Thursday before holding a public discussion session that afternoon.

Tauran told the French Catholic daily La Croix in an interview the delegations should discuss religious freedom but it was not a Vatican precondition for a dialogue.

He said if Muslims could build mosques in Europe, Christians should have the same right in majority Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia, which has launched its own interfaith dialogue this year, bar other religions from operating openly there.

"These dialogue initiatives seem quite out of step with the anti-Christian violence that is reported daily from several countries," he said. "How can we communicate the real openings we are making among elites down to the masses?"
Scientists, Theologians Gather for Vatican Conference on Evolution
By Lawrence Jones
Christian Post Reporter

Pope Benedict XVI opened a five-day Vatican meeting on evolution Friday morning by affirming that the world did not emerge out of chaos but was intentionally created by "the First Being."

"In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being,” the pontiff told an audience of 80 scientists, philosophers and theologians who have gathered for the conference, themed "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life."

“It must be created, in other words, by the First Being who is such by essence," he added, according to Zenit News.

Benedict also went further to assert that the Creator was not only involved in the origins of the universe but continually sustains the development of life and the world.

The Creator, he said, “is the cause of every being and all becoming.”

The five-day conference, sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the latest initiative in an effort by the Vatican to promote dialogue between scientists and theologians. It also comes as debates over creation and evolution continue to rage on.

Like many Christians today, most members of the Catholic Church accept a brand of evolution known as "theistic evolution," which teaches that evolution was a tool used by God in the creation process.

During a press gathering in September, the Vatican said the theory of evolution was compatible with the Bible and that it was even planning to hold a new interdisciplinary conference to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species next March in Rome.

The Catholic Church rejects a fundamentalist interpretation of the Creation story in Genesis, regarding the six-day account as an allegory. Though this view aligns with that of many Protestant Christians, many conservatives maintain the belief in a literal six-day Creation.
On Friday, Benedict said he saw no contradiction between believing in God and empirical science.

"There is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences," he said, quoting from Popes Pius XII and John Paul II.

He also cited Galileo, whom, he said "saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author."

"It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose ‘writing’ and meaning, we ‘read’ according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the Author who has wished to reveal Himself therein," said the pontiff, according to Catholic News Service.

Following Benedict’s opening remarks, world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, a professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, was scheduled to give a lecture Friday afternoon entitled "The Origin and Destiny of the Universe."

The physicist’s appearance was to mark his second at a Vatican scientific conference since 1981, when Hawking had attended at Vatican conference on cosmology.

Though he has never professed a belief in God, Hawking has never denied the existence of God either. Furthermore, in his 1988 publication, A Brief History of Time, Hawking discussed the possibility of a creator.

"So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator,” wrote Hawking, who later said that his theories show the possibility for the laws of science to dictate how the universe began.

The world renown physicist has also admitted to being religious, though not “in the normal sense," in an interview with Reuters last year.

"I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science," he told Reuters. "The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws," he added.

Aside from Hawking, other notable scientists scheduled to speak at the five-day Vatican conference, which concludes Nov. 4, include Swiss chemist Albert Eschenmoser, who will discuss the search for the chemistry of life’s origin; U.S. biologist David Baltimore, who will examine evolution at the genetic level; and Greek biologist Fotis Kafatos, who will speak on evolution and the insect world.

Those addressing the theological and philosophical aspects of evolution will include Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini and Father Stanley L. Jaki, a professor of physics and the philosophy of science at Seton Hall University.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

THIS is what I like to see

Pope sees physicist Hawking at evolution gathering

Reuters – Pope Benedict XVI (R) greets British professor Stephen Hawking during a meeting of science academics …
Slideshow: Physicist Stephen Hawking

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict told a gathering of scientists including the British cosmologist Stephen Hawking on Friday that there was no contradiction between believing in God and empirical science.

Benedict, who briefly met the wheelchair-bound physicist at an event hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, described science as the pursuit of knowledge about God's creation.
"There is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences," the pontiff said.

"Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God."

The Catholic Church found the 17th-century astronomer Galileo guilty of heresy for insisting the earth revolved around the sun. It did not rehabilitate him until 1992.

Hawking is a guest at the week-long event, which will explore the theme: "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life."

In an interview with Reuters last year, Hawking said he was "not religious in the normal sense."
"I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science," he said. "The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."

The Catholic Church teaches "theistic evolution," which accepts evolution as scientific theory. Proponents see no reason why God could not have used an evolutionary process in forming the human species.

The Pontiff admired the technology that allows Hawking to speak through a voice synthesizer. Hawking is crippled by a muscle disease and has lost the use of his natural voice.

Hawking, author of the best-selling "A Brief History of Time," will speak about the origin of the universe at the closed-door event.

(Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Catherine Bosley)