Baptism Seen as Unifying Sacrament

Archbishop Forte Says There Is Bond Among Believers

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CHIETI, Italy, NOV. 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).- There is a bond that exists among all the baptized that is stronger than their differences, says a renowned archbishop-theologian.

Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto said this in his pastoral letter for the year 2007-2008, titled "The Water of Life: Baptism and the Beauty of God."

The Italian prelate said that the Church has from the beginning "followed in the footsteps of the Master, proposing to whoever wished to encounter Jesus an itinerary similar to that which he showed to the disciples of John the Baptist."

"For an adult who seeks baptism," he continued, "it is a true itinerary of Christian initiation that unites catechesis and a progressive experience of God's gift. For one who was baptized as a child, the path coincides with the education in the faith."

Archbishop Forte, a member of the International Theological Commission, suggests two fundamental meanings of baptism: liberation from evil and the "decisive encounter with Christ, who will permit us to live all our existence as a story of friendship with him in the communion of the Church."

The proclamation of the Gospel, he said, is a necessary requisite for baptism, even though in past years this duty of the baptized "was almost discounted and the importance of preparation for baptism was rather neglected."

"In the complex society in which we live, multireligious and multicultural, the urgency of proclaiming the faith and of Christ's call to conversion shows itself in all its necessity," observed the 58-year-old prelate.

In the baptism of a child, continued the archbishop, this urgency looks above all to the parents, whose catechesis in preparation for the baptism of their child is "indispensable."

Eternal life

Commenting on the baptismal rite, Archbishop Forte said it begins with a dialogue: "The parents are asked if they want their child to be baptized, and what they hope for from baptism. The response is the echo of the deepest expectation of the human heart: eternal life.

"He who receives baptism is not alone: God who is love will guard you always."

He continued: "In the celebration of baptism we are called to say 'no' to sin and to the seductions of Satan, meaning a life based on appearances, on egoism and lies, which will separate us from God and others so as to affirm ourselves, living the illusion of being able to be happy without loving.

"At the same time, we are called to say 'yes' to God who is love, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a 'yes' expressed by the word 'I believe,' with which we surrender ourselves totally to God."

"To this profession of faith, the living God responds making us enter a covenant of love with him: a covenant so faithful, that our belonging to him and the Church can never be lost, whatever our infidelities and rejections may be."

Ecumenical

"Thanks to the gift of baptism," said Archbishop Forte, "we have the certainty of belonging always to God, and we can experience the sweetness of being in the hands of one who will never betray us."

He continued: "This definitive relationship with God consists fittingly of the 'character' imprinted by baptism, the bond with him, which thanks to his fidelity cannot be canceled, will unite us always to his family, the Church."

For this reason, the archbishop wrote, "there exists among all the baptized [...] a communion stronger than their differences, which -- although it exists in different degrees -- is the basis of the ecumenical commitment, conducive to overcome the historical divisions among them."

The "passion for the unity that Christ wants," confirmed Archbishop Forte, is therefore "inscribed in the same baptismal grace."