By Nicolas de Cardenas
ROME, 12 NOV. 2009 (ZENIT)
In his latest book, the author who interviewed many
people, including the last two Popes, himself becomes the
subject of an inquiry, leading him to reveal his story of
Vittorio Messori, author of "The Jesus Hypothesis"
(1976), is the first journalist in history to publish a
book-length interview with a Pope, the best-selling
"Crossing the Threshold of Hope" (1994).
He also published "The Ratzinger Report" (1987), based on
an interview with then prefect of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
In this interview with ZENIT, Messori talks about his
latest book, "Por qué creo" [Why I Believe] (published by
LibrosLibres in Spain), in which he is interviewed by
Vatican expert Andrea Tornielli.
Part 2 of this interview will be published Friday.
ZENIT: At the beginning of the book, you seem very
reticent to open your soul, although you have already
accepted the challenge of addressing Tornielli's questions.
Was it as hard as it seems for you to take on the systematic
recounting of your conversion experience?
Messori: I have waited many years before responding.
First, because I have written 23 books, all of religious
research, but I always refused to recount my conversion.
My readers know that in my life there is a before and
after. They know I wasn't born a Catholic and that I had a
very anti-clerical and anti-religious education.
And they know that now I am a "Papist," an orthodox
Catholic, and they are very curious to know how this
happened. Why? What happened in my life?
I have passed from being anti-clerical to being a
rigorous Catholic in thought, though not so much in life.
Because I don't present myself as devout. I am like everyone
else, a sinner who does many inconsistent things.
I have been very guarded about my inner life; I have not
had the courage to talk about it.
Actually, conversion is a mystery and it is very
difficult to talk about a mystery. My work is in words, I am
a journalist and writer, I work with words. But it was very
difficult for me to find the necessary words to talk about
Finally, I decided to respond not only to the request of
readers, but to that of this journalist, this colleague,
Andrea Tornielli, who in my opinion is the best Italian
Vatican expert, in addition to being a great journalist and
Now I have decided for the first time to talk about it
because my life is divided into two stages, passing from
unbelief to faith.
ZENIT: The Spanish edition of the book "Why I Believe"
has more than 350 pages, yet even with such an impressive
exposition of your experience, a doubt remains. Can one
truly encompass a person's mystical experience with the
printed word? Is it possible to verbalize all the
intellectual and moral change that a convert experiences?
Messori: This is one of the reasons why I always said no.
I repeat, it is difficult to talk about mystery.
I'm not a mystic, I am not a visionary. I have always
been a very pragmatic person, very concrete, very rational.
However, there was a period in my life, of some two months
in the summer, I don't know why, when I discovered a new
dimension in which truth, which I thought did not exist in
capital letters, became evident to me. It is in the Gospel.
I was a good student, I loved to study and I prepared
myself not only to be a journalist but also a university
professor. I had read very many books, but I had not read
that small book that is the Gospel. I did not suspect that
the Truth was in it.
Now I have continued to use my reason as before, but it
is open to mystery. My teachers taught me to use pure
reason, but I have discovered that by using it, at the end
of reason one always comes to mystery.
In all my books I have sought to reason. I have not
worked at preaching, spirituality, homilies. I try to help
the reader to reason on faith and, at the end, to bet on the
veracity of faith.
ZENIT: Although your conversion seems to be linked also
to an "extraordinary event," you do not refer to it as a
process of rational argumentation, or the seeking of
objective reasons and historical principles for the
credibility of the Church. What is your opinion of
apologetics based not so much on the rationality of the
faith as on individual experiences?
Messori: There is no contradiction between the two. The
truth of the faith is understood by reasoning and living.
It is 40 years since my "fracture" and in that time I
have reasoned and studied a lot, but above all I have lived
and have found that the fruit of my reasoning made sense in
a complete life.
The Gospel recounts that the disciples asked Jesus who he
was. He did not give them sermons, did not offer them
reasoning, he said to them: "Come, and follow me." Come with
me, live with me and you will see that I am the Messiah.
Christianity is not a philosophy, it isn't an ideology.
It is a meeting of two persons.
ZENIT: In the book one perceives a certain regret because
of the abandonment of your former teachers, those who
introduced you to the path of agnosticism. Did you feel
betrayed by those who defended reason as the only possible
basis, when that same rationality is the pivot of your
coming to the faith?
Messori: For me faith was a surprise. I was not seeking
it, I was fine. I had no religious worry.
I was satisfied with the secular and rationalist culture
of my teachers. I did not wish to be a Catholic. The
faith did not resolve the problems of life. On the contrary,
it complicated life, because I come from a non-believing
I studied in a school that was more than secular, it was
based in laicism. I prepared myself to be a journalist; I
always had a great vocation, but [as] a journalist of
political, social and economic affairs.
In my last year of university I had my life planned and I
had to change the plan completely. My parents thought I had
gone mad and my professors were afflicted and disappointed.
They thought that "my thing" was related to a nervous
How can a disciple of our secularism become a Catholic!
It was very hard, because one can think at first that faith
resolves all problems.
Of course I am very happy and glad to have problems, but
in fact it was quite a rupture. In any case, I have had the
good fortune to work for important newspapers such as "La
Stampa," FIAT's newspaper, and also with "Il Corriere della
Sera," always, however, writing about religious affairs,
which is the opposite of what I planned in the beginning. In
the end I found my place, but it was hard to change my plans