Friday, May 09, 2008

The Book Fair in Turin, Italy

Turin is holding its annual book fair through May 12th. In the face of the usual critics, Italy’s President was firm regarding the decision to honor Israel this year since it is celebrating the sixtieth year of survival as a state:

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano opened the prestigious Turin book fair Thursday [May 6th] amid opposition from Muslims and the Italian Left over the choice of Israel as the event’s guest of honor.

“No dialogue is possible if there is a refusal to recognize Israel,” Napolitano said at Israel’s stand at the fair, the European Jewish Press reported. Napolitano added that there can be no “rejection of the reasons for [Israel’s] birth or of its right to exist in peace and security.”

Like the Paris book fair in March, the Turin fair is honoring the modern state of Israel on the 60th anniversary of its creation. Israel’s stand was swamped by hundreds of people, many draped in the Israeli flag, with one group holding a banner that read: “I feel Jewish today.”


In a statement released earlier this week, Napolitano’s office said: “Criticism of the policies adopted by the Israeli government is quite legitimate, especially within Israel. What is inadmissible is any position that tends to deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel, which was established by the will of the United Nations in 1948, and its right to existence in peace and security”. [emphasis added]


Security has been tightened for this year’s event in Turin, coming two months after the Paris book fair, which was inaugurated by Israeli President Shimon Peres. A bomb threat to the Paris fair forced an hour-long evacuation of the venue.

The Turin fair, which is now in its 21st year, will be attended by some 1,400 publishers this year.

This is a huge event, attended by thousands of people. In addition to publishers and presses, there will be many authors in attendance, signing books and speaking with their readers.

One writer in particular is likely to receive much attention, though how friendly that awareness will be is open to question…
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The excerpts below are from the chapter “Il mio battesimo” [My Christening] from Magdi Cristiano Allam’s book, Grazie Gesù. La mia conversione dall’islam al cattolicesimo [Thank You Jesus. My Conversion from Islam to Christianity] (Mondadori, pp. 204, € 18).

Grazie Gesù went on sale today (May 9th) in Italian bookshops. The author, Magdi Cristiano Allam, plans to be on hand at the Turin Book Fair on Saturday afternoon, May 11th for signing books and talking to readers.

Here is the wiki concerning Allam’s biography. He is an Egyptian-born journalist who became an Italian citizen in 1986:

Allam began his journalistic career at the communist newspaper Il Manifesto. Later, he moved to the center-left leaning Italian newspaper La Repubblica, where he worked as a commentator, mostly writing about issues faced by extra-communitarian immigrants in Italy, especially those originating from North-Africa, and supporting progressive policies on the immigration issue and on the compatibility of Islam and Western values… In 2003, following a radical shift in his views, Allam joined the more conservative, Milan-based Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s oldest newspapers, as deputy director of the newspaper (vice-director ad personam). Today he is one of Italy’s most famous and controversial journalists.

Now he is likely to become famous for writing a book about religious conversion that follows in the footsteps of Augustine and Thomas Merton:

A Lifetime to Become a Christian

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 signaled 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 catechumens 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.

This translation into English was done by Giles Watson [with some editing done for the purposes of posting it --D.]. Mr. Watson's website is here.

This is the original website where the translation appeared.

Thanks to the numerous contributors who sent this in.


Findalis said...

Faith like other things is a personal choice. But to read the joy in the words that Magdi Cristiano Allam wrote as he relived his baptism is a pleasure. You feel his love and happiness explode. Now I've got to get a copy of his book. I feel that it will be one of the books I will cherish. Not for its Christian overtones, but for the joy of life the author brings out.

straight talker said...

Powerful. It takes something genuinely significant to see the beating heart of man.

Ron Larson said...

Smart move of the Turin Book Fair. All they need to do is look at the number of books written and purchased in the Arab Middle East ('Mien Kampf' doesn't count) versus Israel. What is the literacy rate of Egypt versus Israel (only 60% of Egyptian adult females are literate).

The sad fact is, the Arab Middle East doesn't have a culture of writing and reading books. Their religious leaders and dictators have them locked in modern Dark Ages.

Dymphna said...

Maybe the immigrants will learn to read??