The Pope has baptised 16 babies in the Sistine Chapel in Rome to mark the Feast day that recalls Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.
The 9 girls and 7 boys are all children of Vatican employees working at the Holy See.
Pope Francis told the parents that their duty was to “preserve the Christian identity” of their children.
He also told mothers to feel free to nurse their babies if they were hungry in the chapel, with its ceiling frescoed by Michelangelo, and “before the Lord without any problem”.
“Please, they are the protagonists” of the ceremony, Francis said, referring to the babies. “And if they cry, let them cry, because they have a spirit of community, let’s say, a spirit of a gang,” and one baby cries, others do, too, “and right away there’s an orchestra”, the pope said.
By asking to have their children baptised, parents are committing to “have them learn to love God and their neighbour”, Francis told each mother and father.
To emphasise his papacy’s teaching to care for the needs of those who live on the margins of societies, Francis chose his official almsgiver, a Polish cardinal, to celebrate the Mass with him.
One of the children who was baptised on Sunday was a boy whose father had died. He was held in his mother’s arms as the pontiff poured water, symbolising removal of sin, over his head.
He also encouraged the babies’ parents to keep their infants warm, since it can be quite cool in the Sistine Chapel during the Winter months, and to make them feel at home, nurse them and to realise that if they cry, it is also an expression of their spirit being in community with all those present.
In a brief, off-the-cuff homily beneath Michelangelo’s depiction of the Last Judgment, the pope said that in baptism children received their Christian identity.
“And you, parents and godparents, must guard this identity,” he said. “This is your task throughout your lives: to guard the Christian identity of your children. It is a daily commitment: to make them grow with the light that they will receive today.”
The tradition of the Pope baptising the children of Holy See employees was started in 1981 by Pope John Paul II and since 1983 the ceremony has been held in the splendour of the Sistine Chapel.
On Jan. 12, 2020, Pope Francis baptised 32 infants — 17 boys and 15 girls. The World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11 that year.
In 2021, newborns eligible to be baptised in the Sistine Chapel received the sacrament in their home parishes instead.
Last year, as part of precautions against Covid-19, the baptism ceremony wasn’t held.
The Sistine Chapel is situated in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. It was built by Pope Sixtus IV between 1473 and 1481 and is famous for its ceiling frescoes by the Renaissance artist Michaelangelo.