Benedict XVI "Opens Heaven" for 13 Babies
Pope Imparts Sacrament on Feast of Christ's Baptism
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Amid the crying of eight baby girls and five baby boys resounding in the Sistine Chapel, the Pope expressed his joy at imparting the first sacrament of Christian life to the newborns, "one of the most expressive moments of our faith."
In his homily for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Holy Father reflected on the "mystery of life": of the human life represented here by the newborns and the divine life that God gives to the baptized.
The children's parents, employees of Vatican City, were accompanied by the babies' godparents and a small group of relatives.
Noting Michelangelo's paintings in the chapel, the Pontiff spoke of "the experience of life and what is opposed to it, namely, the reality of death."
He said: "In baptism, the little human being receives a new life, the life of grace, which makes him capable of entering into a personal relationship with the Creator, and this forever, for all eternity.
"Unfortunately, man is capable of snuffing out this new life with his sin, closing himself up in a situation that sacred Scripture calls ‘second death.'
"While in the other creatures, who are not called to eternal life, death means only the end of existence on earth; in us, sin creates a precipice that we run the risk of falling from forever, unless the Father who is in heaven takes us by his hand."
This is the mystery of baptism, Benedict XVI explained: "God wanted to save us by going himself into the very depths of the abyss of death so that every man, even he who has fallen so deep into the abyss as to no longer see heaven, can find the hand of God by which he can climb back up out of the darkness to see the light again for which he is made.
"All of us feel, all of us interiorly perceive that our existence is a desire for life that invokes a fullness, a salvation. This fullness of life is given to us by baptism."
Turning to the babies' parents, the Pope said, "Certainly to grow healthy and strong, these children will need material care and much attention; but what will be more necessary for them, indeed indispensable, is to know, love and faithfully serve God, to have eternal life."
The Holy Father celebrated the Eucharist at the ancient altar placed against the wall beneath the painting of the Last Judgment, instead of on the platform with an added altar "so as not to alter the beauty and harmony of this architectural jewel," a Vatican note explained.
That placement of the altar, added the note, implied that in some moments the Pope "had his back to the faithful and his gaze upon the cross, orienting the attitude and disposition of the whole assembly in this way," though he did not use the 1962 missal.