Benedict XVI and Muslim journalist's conversion
In an interview with the Argentinean daily La Nacion in March, Egyptian-born journalist Magdi Christian Allam, the Muslim convert baptised by Benedict XVI during the Easter Vigil, said the Pope played a key role in his conversion despite the fact that prior to his baptism he had never met him.
Allam explained that his conversion was 'a slow and gradual process. Since I was little I was aware of the Catholic world because I went to Italian-run Catholic schools in Cairo ... and this allowed me to learn about the Catholic religion from the inside in a correct way.'
However, he pointed to two factors that influenced his conversion: the threats he received for questioning Islam, and the person of Benedict XVI.
The threats he began receiving beginning in 2003 led him to reflect not only on the reality of Islamic extremism and terrorism but also on Islam as a religion. 'I was forced to analyse the Koran and the works and thoughts of Mohammed, and I discovered that there are profound ambiguities that allow for violence and terrorism to be legitimised.
'The second factor was having met various Catholics with whom I felt completely in tune, as we shared the same values. Of course the most influential person in this conversion was this Pope, Benedict XVI, whom I had never personally met before my baptism during the Easter Vigil,' he revealed.
'As a journalist, I followed all of the activities of Benedict XVI and was completely fascinated by his thinking. I completely shared his concept of the indissolubility between faith and reason. I was always fascinated by this Pope because he is not only a great man of faith, but also a great man of reason. I think that many fear the Pope not because of his faith but because of his reason, his ability to challenge them in the realm of reason,' Allam said.
According to Allam, there is an effort underway to discredit him and attack the Pope, but he said, 'having received baptism from the Pope is the greatest gift life could give me and was testimony for many Muslims I know who converted here in Italy, but who live their faith in secret out of fear.'
Allam concluded: 'We must distinguish between Islam as a religion and Muslims as people. If I decided to convert, it is totally obvious that I did so because I developed a negative appreciation of Islam. If I thought Islam were a true and good religion, I would not have converted, I would still be a Muslim.
'But we live in a Europe that is sick from relativism and that is beholden to political correctness. So we have to say that all religions are equal, no matter what their content is, and we can't say anything that will hurt the feelings of someone else. But I reject this because I believe that the exercise of freedom of expression cannot be limited. And I say what I think.'
Catholic News Agency
Survey shows changes in American Catholicism
In a profile of America's Catholic population, released in advance of Benedict XVI's April visit to the US, the Pew Forum called attention to a demographic shift, with younger Catholics less likely to remain active in the Church, while Hispanic immigrants replace many of the 'cradle Catholics' who no longer practise.
'No other major faith in the US has experienced greater net losses over the last few decades as a result of changes in religious affiliation than the Catholic Church,' the Pew report notes, with roughly one-third of those who were raised Catholic leaving the Church, and approximately one-in- ten American adults being former Catholics.
Despite the large exodus of 'cradle Catholics,' the Catholic proportion of America's overall population remains constant, thanks to the large number of Catholic immigrants, primarily from Mexico. Hispanics now account for 29 percent of Catholics in the US, and nearly half of those are under the age of 40.
The Pew profile confirms that Catholics compose a crucial political constituency. But the survey also shows a sharp distinction between the Catholics who attend Mass regularly and those who are not active. Thus, for example, among Catholics who attend Mass weekly, 60 percent say that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances; among those who do not go to Mass regularly the figure is 29 percent. Similarly, 42 percent of the regular Mass-goers oppose research that entails the destruction of human embryos; only 22 percent of the less active Catholics take that stand.
Catholic World News
Senator John McCain courts Catholic vote
Senator John McCain's presidential campaign is reaching out to Catholics in hopes of winning their votes for the November presidential election, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Catholics, who comprise about 25 percent of the US electorate, were once overwhelmingly Democratic voters. In recent decades significant numbers of them have moved towards the Republican Party, turning the Catholic vote into a key swing vote constituency.
The McCain campaign has announced that it enjoys support from a group of 100 prominent Catholics, headed by former presidential candidate, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas.
Rob Wasinger, Brownback's former campaign manager, said Senator McCain was 'a natural for Catholics.' Wasinger cited McCain's pro-life stand and his position against homosexual marriage as reasons for his appeal to Catholics.
'He's going to have an easier sell with Catholics than with the grass-roots conservative GOP,' said Deal Hudson, a prominent Catholic journalist and McCain supporter who was a key adviser in President George W. Bush's Catholic outreach efforts.
However, McCain differs from some Catholic positions including his support for embryonic stem cell research.
Before the Florida primary, McCain devoted ten staffers to the campaign's outreach to Florida Catholics. The staffers contacted about 500,000 Catholics statewide. In the primary election, the Baptist McCain beat his closest rival, the Catholic former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, by 15 percent.
'McCain needed help in Iowa to come in at a respectable level. He had to win New Hampshire. And then to close the deal, he had to win Florida. And in each place, the Catholic vote really provided the edge,' Deal Hudson said.
Catholic News Agency
Ecclesia Dei president clarifies Motu Proprio
In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano, the head of the Ecclesia Dei commission, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, made clear that priests do not require permission from their bishops in order to celebrate the extraordinary form of the Latin liturgy.
While the 'ordinary form' - the Novus Ordo - remains 'the Mass that normally all priests say,' the cardinal said that Benedict XVI, in his Motu Proprio broadening access to the traditional liturgy, authorised all priests to use the older liturgy.
'Some ask permission, as if this were some sort of concession or exception,' Cardinal Castrillon said, 'but there is no need for that.'
The cardinal, whose Ecclesia Dei Commission supervises implementation of the Motu Proprio, said that 'some practical difficulties' have delayed its worldwide acceptance. But when questioned about some bishops' criticisms of the document, the cardinal said that it was 'a controversy born from a lack of understanding' and that, as a result, the Ecclesia Dei Commission plans new efforts to educate the clergy about the liturgical norms in order to eliminate those misunderstandings.
Catholic World News
Catholic-Anglican covenant signed in Newcastle
Over 1,000 people gathered in Newcastle's Christ Church Anglican cathedral on 2 April for the signing of a covenant on ecumenical cooperation between the Anglican diocese of Newcastle and the Catholic dioceses of Maitland-Newcastle and Broken Bay.
It is believed to be the first covenant of its kind in Australia.
The congregation was called to prayer by the sound of the didgeridoo, followed by a smoking ceremony.
Recognising the reconciling elements of water and fire within Aboriginal culture and the centrality and commonality of baptism within the Anglican and Catholic traditions, Anglican Bishops Brian Farran and Graeme Rutherford (Diocese of Newcastle) and Catholic Bishops Michael Malone and David Walker (Dioceses of Maitland-Newcastle and Broken Bay) gathered with Aboriginal elders at the Baptismal font. They prayed over the water together, before sprinkling the congregation.
The preacher, Sister Jenny Gerathy OP, compared the occasion of the signing of the covenant with the recent Earth Hour initiative.
Just as last year Sydney had led the way with Earth Hour, more recently been taken up throughout Australia and internationally, Sr Gerathy said that 'tonight we lead the way, as we take this small but significant step which we hope will lead the way for others, locally and globally'.
Cardinal Arinze warns against 'wild liturgy'
Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, recently criticised liturgical abuses and recklessly innovative priests who, he said, act as 'Reverend Showman'.
Cardinal Arinze was in Kenya in March to conduct a workshop and a retreat on liturgy for the bishops. While at the Catholic University of East Africa, the cardinal delivered a public lecture in which he discussed the importance of following liturgical rubrics and the proper place of inculturation in the liturgy.
He noted sentiments that cause errors in worship, such as regarding everyone an expert in liturgy, extolling spontaneity and creativity to the detriment of approved rites and prayers, and ignoring approved liturgical texts.
He said that liturgical abuses were often due to an ignorance that rejects elements of worship whose deeper meaning is not understood or whose antiquity is not recognised.
Some aspects of liturgical rites could be modified according to pastoral needs - 'the Church does not live in the Vatican Museum.' However, incorporating local traditions into the practice of the faith, known as inculturation, should be compatible with the Christian message and in communion with the universal Church.
He also targeted individualistic experimentation: 'The person who of his own authority adds or subtracts from the laid down liturgical rites is doing harm to the Church.'
He urged future priests' proper formation in liturgy and the ongoing liturgical formation of both clergy and lay people.
Catholic News Agency