VATICAN CITY (AP) — With wails resounding amid the splendor of the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis on Sunday baptized 32 infants, and at one point in the ceremony told mothers to feel free to feed their crying babies.
Formally welcoming the children as members of the Catholic church, Francis poured water from a shell-shaped dish over the heads of the babies held in their mothers' arms. Francis pronounced the babies' names one by one, as beaming parents held their children, dressed in white satin or silk gowns and other finery, in the chapel whose ceiling was frescoed by Michelangelo.
In the same chapel in March, Francis was elected as the first Latin American pope. He is the first pope to choose the name Francis. Among the children were two Francescas. It wasn't clear if Francis, whose cheerfulness and warmth draw huge crowds to the Vatican, might have inspired the choice of those names.
In keeping with his down-to-earth style and his drive to make the church more relevant in the everyday lives of the faithful, the pope has done away with much of the pomp and stiffness often characterizing papal appearances. He noted that some babies were crying. "If they are hungry, mothers, feel free to feed them," Francis said during his homily.
The Sistine Chapel choir sang during the ceremony, but Francis said that "today the most beautiful chorus is that of the babies."
Trying to shore up flagging faith among many Catholics, Francis told parents that the most beautiful inheritance they could give their children was faith.
Francis has been trying to make the church more welcoming and readily interacts with tourists and Romans in St. Peter's Square and elsewhere when he is contact with the public.
Among those baptized Sunday was a baby girl whose parents, who live in Tuscany, had some time ago approached the pope during an appearance at the Vatican and asked if he would baptize her, a Tuscan daily, Il Tirreno, reported.
The parents had been married in a civil ceremony but not in the church. Some local clergy balk at baptizing infants whose parents didn't wed in church, but Francis readily granted their request, the newspaper said.