According to the Vatican, Islam has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the single biggest religious denomination in the world. Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, who compiled the Vatican`s 2008 statistics, claims that Muslims make up 19.2 percent of the world population and Catholics 17.4 percent. Referring to 2006, Formenti told Vatican newspaper L`Osservatore Romano, “For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us.“ Formenti explained that while the percentage of Catholics was fairly stable worldwide, that the percentage of Muslims has grown with higher birth rates. The data on Muslim populations was compiled by individual countries and reported by the United Nations while the Vatican vouches for its own statistics.
On Easter services at the Vatican, Pope Benedict baptized a Muslim-born convert, who is among Italy’s most famous and controversial journalists. Magdi Allam, a 55-year old Egyptian-born journalists and fierce critic of Islamic extremism and strong supporter of Israel, kept his conversion to Christianity a well-kept secret, disclosed by the Vatican in a statement less than an hour before Easter evening services began. For the Catholic Church, each person who asks to receive baptism after a deep personal search, a fully free choice and adequate preparation, has a right to receive it,” the letter said. In 2006, Allam defended the Pope when made a statement that many Muslims perceived and depicted Islam as a violent faith. Allam has stated that he was never a devout Muslim; while he never prayed five times a day or fasted during Ramadan, he did make the pilgrimage to Mecca with his deeply religious mother in 1991. The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy – which Allam has criticized as having links to Hamas – was quoted as saying “He is an adult, free to make his personal choice in a statement by the group’s spokesman, Issedin El Zir.
Archbishop of Paris, Monsignor 23, stated that it is time for friendly and clear dialogue with Muslims, and that Catholics need not be fearful in their interactions with members of the Muslim community. Monsegnor Michel Dubost highlights the 140 known conversions from Islam to Catholicism, many of whom receive death threats for crossing religious boundaries. He argues, it is necessary for the Catholic Church to present itself in a better light, while avoiding being accused of proselytizing.
In our neighborhood, the churches are empty but the mosques are full,” a priest participating in an training session in Orsay admitted. Organized by the Office for Islamic Relations in the French Bishops Conference, this training session allowed this priest a week to explore the historical, spiritual, social, cultural and religious aspects of Islam. At both the grassroots and institutional levels, contacts between Islam and Catholicism are frequent but remain formal and tagged with fears and clich_s.