.- The gift of faith is the “most beautiful reason to live,” said Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Faith is sought through baptism and brought to maturity within the Church community, he added.
The Pope celebrated Sunday's feast with a rare Mass in the Sistine Chapel followed by the Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square. During the celebration of the Mass, which has become a tradition in the Vatican every Jan. 9, he baptized 21 children.
With baptism, he said during his homily, the child is inserted into the "mutual exchange of love" between God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
"The love of God is poured out over them, inundating them with his gifts."
The Pope told the parents that in the sacrament their children join in the life of Christ, who was crucified to free man from sin and resurrected to conquer death. They are thus "immersed spiritually in His death and resurrection" and "freed from original sin and a life of grace begins in them, which is the very life of the Risen Jesus," he said.
The parents and godparents ask the Church to pass on the gift of faith, "that which is most precious in life, and that is the truest and most beautiful reason to live," he explained.
He explained that through baptism, children are consecrated and called to follow the Lord and to realize the vocation he has for them. Education in the faith is important, he told parents and godparents, so that "the seed of faith that they receive today will grow in them and they might reach full Christian maturity."
During the Angelus that followed in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI explained that through Christ's own Baptism by John the Baptist, he "established the regeneration in the Spirit and opened, to all who want it, the opportunity to become children of God.
"Not by chance, in fact, every baptized person acquires the character of 'son' starting with their Christian name, an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit gives birth 'anew ' to man from the womb of the Church."
Blessed Antonio Rosmini wrote that man is "raised to the supernatural order" through the sacrament, thus renewing his communication with God, noted the Pope.
Baptism marks the beginning of the spiritual life that finds fulfillment in the Church. The community welcomes the child and entrusts him to God and parents and godparents commit themselves to the child's Christian formation and education.
"This is a great responsibility that comes from a great gift!" said Pope Benedict.
With those words, he encouraged all Christians "to rediscover the beauty of being baptized and to give joyful witness of their faith, so that it may generate fruits of good and harmony."
After the Angelus prayer, the Holy Father remembered last year's earthquake in Haiti and the nation's continuing problems with cholera. He announced that he has sent Cardinal Robert Sarah to represent him in Haiti for the one-year anniversary. On Jan. 12 in Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone will celebrate Mass in memory of the disaster.
He also thanked the estimated 200 Italian politicians who were present for the prayer to express their solidarity with the Pope on protecting religious freedom in the world. Coptic Christians from Rome were also present to protest violence against their community in Alexandria, Egypt.