Pope Francis baptizes babies in Sistine Chapel for 1st time since COVID-19 declared a pandemic

Pope Francis baptizes babies in Sistine Chapel for 1st time since COVID-19 declared a pandemic.

Pope Francis baptizes a child in the Sistine Chapel on Jan. 9, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 9, 2022 / 03:05 am (CNA).

Pope Francis baptized babies in the Sistine Chapel on Sunday for the first time since the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The pope baptized 16 babies on Jan. 9, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a year after he was forced to cancel the annual event due to COVID-19.

In a brief, off-the-cuff homily beneath Michelangelo’s depiction of the Last Judgment, the pope said that in baptism children received their Christian identity.

He told the parents of the seven boys and nine girls that their task was to safeguard their children’s Christian identity.

On Jan. 12, 2020, Pope Francis baptized 32 infants — 17 boys and 15 girls. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11 that year.

In 2021, newborns eligible to be baptized in the Sistine Chapel received the sacrament in their home parishes instead.

The pope concelebrated the Mass on Sunday with the papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski and Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State.

In 2020, the pope celebrated the liturgy “ad orientem,” or facing east, at the Sistine Chapel’s original altar directly beneath the “Last Judgment.” But this year, he offered the Mass “versus populum,” or facing the congregation, at an altar a few steps in front of the older one.

Throughout the Mass, the singing of the Sistine Chapel choir vied with the babies’ cries.

As in previous years, the pope told parents not to worry if their babies cried during the ceremony.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes baptism as the “basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit … and the door which gives access to the other sacraments.”

St. John Paul II began the papal tradition of baptizing children in the Sistine Chapel on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 11, 1981.

The ceremony initially took place in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace but was moved to the Sistine Chapel in 1983.

The event was reserved at first to babies of Swiss Guards but later expanded to include the children of Vatican employees.

Children must be under the age of one and their parents must be married in the Church. Each child is accompanied in the Sistine Chapel by its parents, siblings, godfather, and godmother.

The family groups attend a rehearsal before the ceremony. During the event, the Vatican provides baby-changing tables in a nearby room in the Apostolic Palace.

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