ROME -- An Italian journalist and self-described atheist who died last month has left most of her books and notes to a pontifical university in Rome because of her admiration for Pope Benedict XVI, a school official said yesterday.
Oriana Fallaci had described the pontiff as an ally in her campaign to rally Christians in Europe against what she saw as a Muslim war against the West. As she battled breast cancer last year, she had a private audience with Benedict, who was elected only a few months earlier, at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
In one of her final interviews, Fallaci told The Wall Street Journal: "I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true."
Benedict was surprised by the gift of the books, which dated back as far as the 17th century and included volumes about the formation of modern-day Italy, American history, philosophy, and theology, said Monsignor Rino Fisichella, rector of the Pontifical Lateranense University in Rome.
"The veneration that she had for you, Holy Father, persuaded her to make this donation, which will be known as the Oriana Fallaci Archives," Fisichella said during a ceremony at the university yesterday to announce the gift of the books.
Benedict greeted Fallaci's nephew and his family during the ceremony, according to the Italian news agency ANSA. After decades of conducting major interviews and covering wars as a correspondent for two of Italy's largest dailies, Fallaci concentrated her famous passion and energy in her last years on vehement attacks against a Muslim world she judged to be the enemy of Western civilization.
Absent from the publishing scene for nearly a decade, Fallaci burst back into the spotlight after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States with a series of blistering essays in which she argued that Muslims were carrying out a struggle against the Christian West.
At the time of her death, she was on trial in northern Italy, accused of defaming Islam in her 2004 book, "The Strength of Reason." In it she argued that Europe had sold its soul to what she called an Islamic invasion.
Fallaci had also taken the Catholic Church to task for being what she considered too weak before the Muslim world, despite her praise of Benedict.
She died three days after the pope delivered a speech at a German university in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."
The speech sparked anger in the Muslim world, prompting Benedict to express regrets and say the words did not reflect his personal opinion.