Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Continuing one of his predecessor's favorite traditions, Pope Benedict XVI baptized 10 babies and urged their parents to lead them along the path of truth.
In an extemporaneous sermon during a Jan. 8 Mass, the pope said baptism today carries with it the responsibility to fight against "the largely dominant culture of death" -- a culture, he said, that is marked by injustice, self-delusion and sexual irresponsibility.
The hour-and-a-half-long Mass in the Sistine Chapel was enlivened by the frequent cries of the infants chosen for the papal liturgy. Beneath Michelangelo's famous frescoes of the creation, mothers used pacifiers and rhythmic rocking to try to keep their babies quiet.
The pope, standing next to a large marble font, poured water from a golden dipper over the head of each baby as he pronounced the words of baptism. The five girls and five boys were children or grandchildren of Vatican employees.
Afterward, the pontiff smiled in delight as brothers and sisters of the newly baptized brought him the offertory gifts.
Instead of pronouncing his prepared text, the pope stood and gave an impromptu sermon on the meaning of baptism. In the broad sense, he said, the sacrament is a "yes" to life and a "no" to the widespread culture of death.
"This anti-culture is seen in drugs, in flight from reality, in self-delusion, in false happiness that is manifested in lies, deceit and injustice. It is seen in contempt for others, contempt for solidarity and contempt for a sense of responsibility for the poor and the suffering," he said.
"It is demonstrated in a sexuality that becomes pure amusement without responsibility, that turns the human being into a 'thing' instead of a person," he said.
The pope said the "yes" to life expressed in baptism was fully experienced by early Christians, including those in ancient Rome, who fought against a similar "anti-culture of death" in their pagan society.
"It involved a 'no' to the spectacles where death, cruelty and violence were entertainment. Think of what was done in the Colosseum, or here in Nero's gardens, where men were set on fire like living torches," he said.
The pope's reference was to accounts of Christians being burned alive to light the evening parties thrown by the Emperor Nero in his gardens on Vatican Hill.
With baptism, the pope said, the child is brought into "a company of friends that will never abandon him, in life or death."
"This company is the family of God that carries within itself the promise of eternity. It is a company that will always follow him, even in the days of suffering and the dark valleys of life, and offers him consolation, comfort and light," he said.
The pope added that, while "none of us know what will happen to our planet or our Europe in the next 50 or 60 years," as Christians they could all be sure that they belong to the family of God.
The Mass was the resumption of an annual tradition begun by Pope John Paul II in 1980 to mark the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Because of his frailty, the late pope had to skip the liturgy the last two years of his life.
Speaking to tens of thousand of pilgrims afterward from his apartment window above St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict said baptism was a gift to the infant that needs to be accepted in a "free and responsible" way as an adult.
He encouraged all Christians to rediscover the meaning of their own baptism and emphasized that baptism unites members of every Christian church and community.