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.
Post in: Italiano