I hope readers who celebrated Easter yesterday had a beautiful day. I was most intrigued by coverage of the baptism of Magdi Allam, a prominent critic of radical Islam. Here’s how Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press began her story:
Italy’s most prominent Muslim commentator, a journalist with iconoclastic views such as support for Israel, converted to Roman Catholicism Saturday when the pope baptized him at an Easter service.
As a choir sang, Pope Benedict XVI poured holy water over Magdi Allam’s head and said a brief prayer in Latin.
“We no longer stand alongside or in opposition to one another,” Benedict said in a homily reflecting on the meaning of baptism. “Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world: distances between people are overcome, in the Lord we have become close.”
I appreciated that the reporter used the actual text of Benedict’s sermon to provide context for the baptism. Reuters’ Philip Pullella, whose Vatican coverage I seem to be highlighting frequently, upped the ante a bit by emphasizing the personal risk involved in Allam’s conversion:
A prominent Muslim author and critic of Islamic fundamentalism who was baptized a Catholic by Pope Benedict said yesterday Islam is “physiologically violent” and he is now in great danger because of his conversion.
“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,” Magdi Allam said.
In a surprise move on Saturday night, the Pope baptized the 55-year-old, Egyptian-born Mr. Allam at an Easter eve service in St. Peter’s Basilica that was broadcast around the world.
Mr. Allam took the name “Christian” for his baptism.
Pullella’s lede — assuming that it wasn’t changed by the paper I grabbed his report from — makes a common error that might not seem important but is. While baptism confers membership into a specific church body, people aren’t baptized a Lutheran, Presbyterian or Catholic. They’re baptized into the Christian faith. I was actually impressed at how many print publications handled the language well. On the radio and television, however, I and a few readers kept hearing this “baptized a Catholic” terminology. It takes a few more words but it’s important to be precise when dealing with sacraments.
Late in Holy Week, Osama bin Laden called Pope Benedict XVI the leader of “a new crusade” against Islam and vowed retribution against the European Union for publishing Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.
Reuters religion editor Tom Heneghan had a fascinating look at the cluelessness of some in the media:
France 24 television interrupted my Easter lunch en famille to interview me about this and their main question was whether it was a response to Osama bin Laden’s threat against the pope. That assumes a U.S. campaign-style readiness to react that is miles or centuries away from the way the Vatican works. Easter is the traditional time to baptise adult converts. Allam had to go through a long period of study before being accepted for baptism. Benedict had to know about this at least several weeks ago. In his article in Corriere (see below), Allam mentions a meeting with Benedict where he told him of his intention to convert and the pope said he would gladly baptise him. But Allam does not mention the date.
What does it say about some in the media that they might think this conversion was a last minute attempt to respond to bin Laden? Still, it is definitely worth noting that the Vatican didn’t back off from baptism plans to satisfy a bloodthirsty terrorist, as these stories, including this one that led with angle, did.