Pope Baptizes a Prominent Muslim

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI rejoiced over conversions to Christianity a day after he baptized a prominent Muslim, celebrating Easter Sunday in a rain-drenched appearance he used to renew calls for peace in Iraq, the Holy Land and Tibet.

A white canopy on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica protected the 80-year-old pontiff from a downpour while thousands of pilgrims, tourists and Romans under a sea of umbrellas braved thunder and wind-whipped rain to attend Easter Mass in the square.

On Easter, Christians celebrate their belief in the resurrection of Jesus two days after he was crucified. Thanks to the apostles' preaching about the resurrection, "thousands and thousands of persons converted to Christianity," Benedict said.

"And this is a miracle which renews itself even today," the pope said, hours after a Saturday night Easter vigil service in which he baptized seven adults. The converts included Magdi Allam, a prominent journalist and commentator in Italy who has received death threats for his denunciations of Islamic fanaticism.

Allam, 55, deputy editor of Corriere della Sera newspaper, was born a Muslim in Egypt, but was educated by Catholics and says he has never been a practicing Muslim.

He wrote in a front-page letter published Sunday in Corriere that he was now taking on the middle name Cristiano -- Christian in Italian.

He expressed his gratitude to Benedict, calling Saturday "the most beautiful day of my life."

"The miracle of the resurrection of Christ reverberated in my soul, freeing it from the shadows of a preaching where hate and intolerance toward he who is different, toward he who is condemned as an 'enemy,' prevailed over love and respect for your neighbor," Allam wrote.