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>Pope to baptise prominent Italian Muslim

>This has to be a spectacularly unhealthy action for a Muslim to take…

POPE Benedict XVI will baptise one of Italy’s most prominent and outspoken Muslim commentators at today’s Easter Vigil service, the Vatican has announced.

Magdi Allam will become a Catholic during the traditional night-time service that takes place between Good Friday and Easter Sunday at St Peter’s Basilica.

Mr Allam, the deputy editor of a leading Italian newspaper, is one of Italy’s leading commentators on Muslim and Arab affairs, the Associated Press reported.

He has been a long-time advocate of tolerance over extremism.

The Vatican said anyone who wishes to convert to Catholicism of their own free will has the right to be baptised.

The Pope would administer the sacrament “without making any ‘difference of people,’ that is, considering all equally important before the love of God and welcoming all in the community of the Church”.

The Vatican announced the high-profile conversion shortly before the long Vigil service started with Benedict XVI blessing a solitary white candle.

He slowly made his way through the pews of St Peter’s, lighting worhsippers’ candles from his own.

The pontiff was forced to pace himself yesterday, cancelling a planned processional walk during the Way of the Cross in Rome.

The Pope had been due to carry a plain, white cross part of the way around the Colosseum, but heavy rain and a packed schedule forced Vatican officials to rethink the idea.

The 81-year-old instead touched and blessed the cross, then remained under cover.

(Nothing Follows)

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