A Close Call with Limbo

Pope Baptizing Babies in Sistine Chapel, January 8, 2012. Freeze Frame of Vatican TV.

This morning Pope Benedict XVI presided over the annual baptism of babies in the Sistine Chapel.  In what is always a beautiful and touching ceremony, a group of parents — dressed to the nines– bring their newborns into the spectacular Sistine Chapel.  There, under the ceiling painted by Michelangelo, the Pope sprinkled 16 newborns with holy water in an official baptism.

This ceremony always reminds me of some baptism challenges I faced with my own children.

A few days before I married Gustavo, I sat before an Irish Catholic priest in Boston who was waxing eloquent about the mysteries of Catholicism. Gustavo claims that before I left the church office I signed a piece of paper promising to raise my children Catholic. I have no memory of such a signature, but anything was possible in those dazed final days before tying the knot.

So, Niccolo’, Caterina and Chiara have all been baptized Catholics. The most anxiety-inducing baptism was for Caterina who was born in New York City. We did not plan to baptize her until we returned to Italy when she was seven months old. My Italian in-laws were horrified at the idea of their grandchild flying across the Atlantic un-baptized. Before we left, my father-in-law explained it to me, saying that if the plane went down, Catholics believe she would have been stuck in LIMBO. I wanted to point out that, given that I had never been baptized, if the plane went down, I would be stuck in LIMBO too, so we could be together. Or perhaps not, maybe I was headed straight for red-hot Hell.

In the end, my sweet, little un-baptized Caterina made it back to Italy, across the Atlantic Ocean, without having to go into LIMBO. Actually being stuck in economy class on those packed transatlantic flight with three kids always feels a bit like Dante’s Inferno to me. In the end Caterina was baptized in Rome. A close Sicilian friend of mine did not take the LIMBO risk. She gave birth in Rome and baptized her son at the hospital so she could take him on a flight the next day to visit her mother in Sicily.

According to Catholic tradition, a baby must be baptized to be cleansed of original sin.  To be precise, according to the Harper Collins “Encyclopedia of Catholicism” original sin is: “the state into which, owing to the first sin of Adam and Eve, all human beings are born.” LIMBO is the state for the non-baptized dead.

Caterina was born in 1998 when ideas about LIMBO were still pretty firm.  In 2007 that changed when the Vatican’s International Theological Commission concluded that unbaptized babies would go to heaven.  It suggested that LIMBO was an “unduly restrictive view of salvation” and that God “wants all human beings to be saved.”

So, no more LIMBO, just heaven, hell or purgatory. And if anyone taking part in today’s ceremony in the Sistine Chapel had any doubts about what the options are, all they had to do was look up at Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” on the wall behind the altar which shows in graphic detail the fate of sinners.

Papal Baptsm Ceremony in the Sistine Chapel, January 8, 2012. Freeze Frame of Vatican TV.

 

 

 

Share this:
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Post in: Italiano

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

15 Comments

  1. Alan
    2012/01/08

    . . so, if ‘God’ wants everybody to be saved how come it took ‘Him’ so long to communicate his desires to the Vatican’s International Theological Commission? What happened to Bertram Russell? and what will happen to Richard Dawkins? or me being apostate?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/01/09

      Hi Alan — thanks for your comment. I went on your site the other day and wrote a really long comment and then it wouldn’t take it because it said my computer didn’t have javascript, so I gave up. Sorry about that. I am suffering from big-time blog blues this week. Is anyone out there? Is anyone listening? Does anyone really care? Anyway, I always appreciate your comments and support and I love reading your blog!

      As far was where you, me and a few others are headed post-mortem– well if you want to know what the Vatican thinks, as I mentioned in the post, all you have to do is look at the bottom of Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” or read Dante’s in Inferno. That’s about enough to freak anyone out!

      If you want to know what I think, I think you are going to get a one-way trip straight through the pearly gates and will be hanging out up there with Simsi (spelling?) eating dog biscuits while you will be eating some fabulous Turkish delights. Just kidding! Un abbraccio, Trisha

      Reply
  2. jwthomas
    2012/01/08

    Darn, I’m sorry Limbo is no more. In Limbo I would have expected to meet many friends (and even some family members) and have a great celebration, Lots of questions about Limbo but since its now obsolete I gues I won’t bother. Too Bad!!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/01/09

      Thanks for your comment….it is funny that LIMBO has been pushed aside by the Vatican, but the word hangs on in the English language with a very precise meaning. Grandma Thomas would have liked that.

      Reply
  3. Gwen
    2012/01/08

    Who are the 16 famiies who have their babies selected to be baptized by the Pope? Seems like that would be quite an honor as well as quite a competitive process!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/01/09

      Excellent question, and I don’t have a precise answer but I will make a note to look into it. As with most things in Italy, I am sure it depends on personal contacts and requests made through church connections. Obviously if your Uncle is a Cardinal, your chances are better. Interestingly, in a post I did earlier this year, I wrote about the Italian “Tiger Mamma”, the anti-Mafia prosecutor named Ilda Boccassini– in her latest ‘Ndrangheta round-up there was apparently one man arrested and accused of being a Mafioso who had bragged to all his friends that he had his child baptized by the Pope in the Sistine Chapel. A bit embarassing for the Vatican, but not the first time the church has been caught having relations with fishy figures.

      Reply
  4. Barbara Landi
    2012/01/09

    Being such a pathetically lapsed Catholic, I didn’t know the church did away with Limbo. Good riddance to it. What a stupid idea that an innocent baby is shackled with original sin from 2 millenia ago. Maybe there is hope for the church after all. Now if only priests can marry, like normal men!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/01/09

      Thanks for your comment Barbara. Limbo is gone, but I think it is going to be a long time before priests can marry or women can become priests. It is fascinating to cover the Vatican because it moves in such an unusual way.

      Reply
  5. Sally
    2012/01/11

    hope you get over your bloggin’ blues this week. yes! someone is out there, listening and caring!! I just discovered your blog when i googled la befana. I enjoy your posts. You especially cracked me up with the taking of the temperatures syndrome in italy. I would fail big time as an italian mamma. keep on writing! i look forward to backtracking to read older posts and seeing future ones. I’m a 1/2 italian mamma in suburban Chicago.
    Ciao!
    Sally (or Selly as I am called in Italy)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/01/11

      Thank you Sally!! What a boost to get your message and realize that someone is reading my posts. I have really been dragging my tail on the whole blogging business. As you probably know, work and kids is enough to keep anyone busy (two out of three of mine are teenagers now too which is double trouble) and I have been thinking that maybe starting a blog was just too ambitious a project. You have given me the shot in the arm I needed. I really appreciate it!! A big hug to you.

      Reply
  6. Rebecca Butler
    2012/01/13

    I am thrilled I found your well written and fabulously entertaining blog! These stories and your perspectives on life in Rome and beyond are wonderful! I was not baptized either but I was born and raised in (as you know) heavily Catholic Boston, of WASP and Roman Catholic ancestry. I remember receiving “hell” from various adults and a few children over the years when they found out I was not baptized (or really raised with religion). So far I’ve made the flight over to Italy several times since 1998… my next trip to Rome is in March 2012, but these days I bring a little “good luck” gris-gris bag from New Orleans (my home away from home, well, I have three homes, one literal in New England and two “spiritual”: Rome and NoLa, which I try to visit whenever I can, NoLa being the far easier one to get to)! Three Catholic-centric cities, my mother was raised Catholic and I married one!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/01/14

      Rebecca– I just went and checked out your blog, and it is lovely. The pictures are beautiful and I love your writing style. For those who are interested, the site is champagne.tumblr.com
      So what town do you live in near Boston?

      Reply
  7. Rebecca
    2012/01/15

    Thanks Trisha!!! I live in Hull. On a hill up the road from Nantasket Beach. Down the right side of my street at the bottom is Cohasset, down the left side is Hingham. Scituate is a couple minutes away. Bought our house in 2007. When in Rome we stay on via veneto. Love your writing!!!

    (written hastily from my phone )!

    Reply
  8. Sally
    2012/01/19

    big hug back to you.

    Reply
  9. Kathleen Botsford
    2012/01/25

    I am so happy to hear you have blog issues too! And you – a famous writer! I absolutely adore your blog! I hate that my need for approval still rears it’s ugly head and makes me question writing mine. Then I say “@#$% it!” Even if I write only for myself…..it is what I enjoy.

    Ya gotta love the Church! My kids now call me a heathen but I am really more Catholic now than I was when I went to Mass every single day and dreamed of being a nun and a martyr! You have to really dig deep to understand the mystery of it all. And sometimes you just have to throw your hands in the air!

    Reply

Leave a Reply