Amid the cries of infants at a Mass in the Sistine Chapel, the Pope said in his homily that a Christian with baptism "is introduced in the mystery of the death and resurrection [of Christ], and receives a new life, which is the very life of God."
"What a great gift and what a great responsibility!" he said. The Holy Father reminded the parents and godparents present that the sacrament entrusts to them the daily task of accompanying the little ones on the path of holiness, especially through their own example of life.
The newly baptized 4-month-old triplets were Francesco, Pietro and Sergio Morgante, sons of a Sicilian couple: Vicente, a reporter for Italian public television, and Ilde, an architect.
A total of 18 boys and four girls were baptized. All were Italian except for Lebanese Elie Daou and Polish Maria Faustyna Kordyasz.
During his 24-year pontificate John Paul II has baptized 1,370 babies, both in the Vatican as well as in Italy and abroad.
At the end of the ceremony, the Pope bid farewell to the families, kissing and greeting the many children who attended their siblings' baptism.
A few minutes later, before praying the Angelus from the window of his study, he explained to the pilgrims gathered below in St. Peter's Square why the Catholic Church customarily baptizes children shortly after their birth.
This custom, he said, "makes one understand with immediate eloquence the real nature of salvation. It is a grace, namely, a free gift of the Lord. Indeed, God always loves us first and has already paid the price of our ransom with the blood of his Son."
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord brings to an end the liturgical period of Christmas.