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 CNS Story:

POPE-BAPTISMS Jan-14-2008 (470 words) xxxi

Pope baptizes 13 infants, urges parents to guide them spiritually

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Presiding over one of his favorite annual liturgies, Pope Benedict XVI baptized 13 infants and urged their parents to educate them in faith, hope and charity.

The newly baptized need material care and attention, but above all they need spiritual guidance as they grow older, he said.

"Dear parents, be the first witnesses of an authentic faith in God," he said.

The pope celebrated the Mass Jan. 13 at the Sistine Chapel's original main altar, instead of using the free-standing temporary altar as had been customary in recent years.

Because the original altar stands against the chapel wall, that meant the pope celebrated parts of the Mass turned away from the people, facing the cross and Michelangelo's fresco of "The Last Judgment."

The Vatican's liturgical office, now headed by Msgr. Guido Marini, explained in a note that the change was made to respect the structure of the chapel and not to "alter the beauty and harmony of this architectural jewel."

"This means that in some moments the pope will find himself with his back to the faithful and his eyes on the cross, thus orienting the attitude and disposition of the entire assembly," it said.

The Mass was celebrated in Italian and, as usual, followed the liturgy of the 1970 Roman Missal.

The pope beamed as he poured water from a gilded shell onto the heads of each of the infants and said their names. All the newly baptized were children of Vatican City employees.

As in other years, the Mass had a familial atmosphere. The brothers and sisters of the baptized carried the offertory gifts, and a chorus of crying babies competed with the Sistine Chapel Choir throughout the liturgy.

In his homily, the pope said the baptized infants were receiving a "new life, the life of grace, which enables them to enter into a personal relationship with the Creator."

Although sin created an abyss between God and man, Christ's sacrifice bridged it, he said. Baptism reopens the way toward this "fullness of life," he said.

At the end of the Mass, the pope momentarily lost his gold ring. As he began processing out of the chapel, he turned to Msgr. Marini and held out his hand to indicate the missing ring. An assistant found it on the floor next to the altar.

Later, addressing pilgrims from his apartment window above St. Peter's Square, the pope spoke about the significance of Christ's baptism by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River.

By being baptized along with sinners, Jesus was beginning the process of taking on the burden of the faults of all humanity, he said. It was a process that ended with his death on the cross, thus opening the way to eternal life, he said.

END


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