VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday baptized 33 babies in the Sistine Chapel as part of an annual tradition, this year repeating an invitation to mothers to nurse their babies if crying out of hunger.
Francis pronounced each baby’s name and poured water from a golden shell-shaped cup on to their foreheads, welcoming them into the faith as some squirmed in their mothers’ arms and others slept peacefully. The 13 infant boys and 20 infant girls, including a set of twins, were all the children of Vatican employees.
During his homily, the pope likened the word of God to `’substantial food,” that would help children grow well. He took the opportunity to tell the mothers `’give your children milk,” and then repeated his explicit invitation from the same occasion last year for mothers to feed their children, `’also now, if they are crying for hunger, nurse them.”
The invitation is in keeping with Francis’ down-to-earth style, and also his focus on mothers that has been evident in his elaboration on families in recent weeks.
Breaking from his prepared text, Francis urged parents and godparents to make a good example by reading the Gospel on a daily basis. `’Keep it in a pocket or a purse. This will be an example to a child to read the word of God,” he said.
For the first time in his pontificate, Francis celebrated Mass with his back to the faithful, according to the rites before the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
It did not appear to be a theological statement by the pope, who has made clear he doesn’t particularly care for the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass rites, but rather in deference to the original layout of the Sistine Chapel where priests traditionally face away from the congregation.
The annual ceremony, marking the end of the Christmas season, is held the first Sunday after the Jan. 6 Epiphany.
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