Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Dear friends, in gifting us faith, the Lord has given us what is most precious in life, that is, the most beautiful and real reason for which to live ... Now you, dear parents, and godparents, ask the Church to accept these children to her bosom, to give them baptism, and you make this request because of the gift of faith that you yourselves have, in turn, received. " Thus, Benedict XVI stressed the value of that ritual celebrated in the Sistine Chapel this morning: the baptism of infants 21 - 13 baby boys and 8 baby girls - children of Vatican employees, the oldest four months and the smallest four weeks old.
The ceremony has become an established tradition of the popes, on the day when the Church celebrates the baptism of Jesus, the last Christmas holiday that closes the festive season.
In his homily, the pontiff first explained the meaning of the baptism of Jesus Christ. "The baptism of Jesus - he said - is the gesture of He who wants to be one of us in everyway and who stands in line with sinners, He who is without sin allows Himself to be treated like a sinner (cf. 2 Cor 5:21), to carry on His shoulders the burden of guilt of all humanity. He is the "servant of Yahweh" of which the prophet Isaiah spoke in the first reading (see 42.1). His humility is dictated by His wish to establish full communion with humanity, the desire to achieve genuine solidarity with man and his condition. Jesus gesture anticipates the Cross, the acceptance of death for our sins. This act of self abasement, in which Jesus wants to totally conform Himself to the Father's plan of love, expresses the perfect harmony of will and purpose that exists between persons of the Holy Trinity. In this act of love, the Spirit of God manifests himself as a dove and comes over him, and at that moment the love that unites Jesus and the Father is witnessed, by those who attend the baptism, in a voice from on high, which they all hear. The Father openly revealed to people the deep communion uniting him to the Son: the voice that resonates from on high states that Jesus is totally obedient to the Father and that this obedience is an expression of love that binds them together. Therefore, the Father is pleased with Jesus, the Son, because he recognises in the gesture Jesus’ desire to follow his will in everything: " This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased " (Mt 3 17). The words of the Father, are also a prelude to the victory of the resurrection.
Benedict XVI then turned to the parents of the children: "the Baptism you ask today for your children, also places them in this mutual exchange of love that is between God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, for this gesture I am about to make, sweeps the love of God over them, flooding them with His gifts".
And again: "Dear parents, your children are a precious gift of the Lord, who has reserved their hearts as His own, to be able to fill them with His love. Through the sacrament of Baptism, he consecrates them and calls them to follow Jesus, through the realization of their vocation according to the particular design of love the Father has in mind for each of them; the goal of this earthly pilgrimage will be full communion with Him in eternal happiness”.
The pope recalled that since the early days of the Church, parents have asked for the baptism of their newborn babies. "Certainly, a free and conscious adherence to this life of faith and love is also required, - he added - and that is why it is necessary that, after baptism, they will be educated in faith."
And he dedicated the second part of the homily to education in the faith. "The Church - said the pope - which welcomes them among her children, is responsible, together with the parents and godparents, in accompanying them on this path of growth. Collaboration between the Christian community and family is greatly needed in the current social context, in which the family institution is threatened from all sides, and finds itself having to face many difficulties in its mission to educate in the faith. The lack of stable cultural reference points and the rapid transformation to which society is continuously subject, makes the commitment to education very difficult. Therefore, it is necessary that the parishes strive increasingly to support families, as the small domestic churches in their task of transmitting the faith".
The Pope concluded his homily with a prayer for the children: " We entrust them to the maternal intercession of Mary, asking for them health and long lives so that they can grow and mature in the faith, and bring, with their lives, the fruits of holiness and love. Amen!".
After the Marian prayer, Benedict XVI expressed his closeness to the people of Haiti, a year after the earthquake, which caused hundreds of thousands of deaths on the island. "I especially remember - said the pope - the people of Haiti, one year after the terrible earthquake, which unfortunately has been followed by a serious outbreak of cholera. Cardinal Sarah Robert, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, arrives in the Caribbean island today to express my constant closeness and that of the entire Church”
Before the greetings in different languages, Benedict XVI also greeted some Italian parliamentarians who are campaigning for religious freedom and "with them - he added – I also greet the faithful Copts here today to whom I renew my closeness." The Coptic community in Egypt has been a central concern of the pope, especially after the New Year massacre in the church, in Alexandria, that left 23 dead and 80 wounded.