Baptized in the Sistine Chapel


Sixteen babies are to receive the sacrament of Baptism in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, in accordance with a 40-year tradition established by Pope Saint John Paul II.

By Delphine Allaire

The sixteen young children who are to be baptized by Pope Francis on the morning of Sunday January 9, 2022, are the newborns of employees of the Holy See and of the Roman Curia.

Baptisms take place during Holy Mass celebrated by the Pope amid the splendor of Michelangelo’s frescoes, following a tradition established by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1981.

Thus, during the last forty years, hundreds of children have entered the Christian life, receiving the sacrament of Baptism by a Pope, in a place where beauty and sacredness are one.

It is a timeless and solemn place, a place where the sacred transcends centuries … It is there that the Holy Spirit descends on the College of Cardinals during the Conclave to elect the future Successor of Peter: La Chapelle Sistine.

The grandiose setting of the papal elections, a Renaissance masterpiece that welcomes nearly five million tourists each year, also becomes, in the discretion and privacy, the place of a completely different audience on the occasion of the feast of the Baptism of Christ in early January: ten children and their families.

Baptism ceremony in the Sistine Chapel

Children of Holy See employees

Babies who have the privilege of receiving the first sacrament from the Pope himself are children of employees of the Holy See and of the Roman Curia. The tradition was established by Pope Saint John Paul II on January 11, 1981. Initially, the ceremony took place in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, then since 1983, in the nearby Sistine Chapel.

Originally, the ceremony of the baptism of the Sistine Chapel was reserved only for the offspring of the Swiss Guards but was later extended to the children of lay officials of the Curia.

The Pope: a “parish priest” for a day

“For one day, Michelangelo’s chapel becomes our parish. The atmosphere is very family, pastoral, and the Pope feels very comfortable in this role of parish priest. He even gives advice to new mothers, ”recalls Mario Galgano, a Swiss employee. of the Dicastery for Communications of the Holy See.

Mario speaks from experience as his own granddaughter, Sofia, was baptized by Pope Francis in the Sistine Chapel in January 2014. It was a “first” for the Argentine Pope who had been enthroned the year before.

Baptism ceremony in the Sistine Chapel

Baptism ceremony in the Sistine Chapel

Rules and regulations

The process is supervised by the Office of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Sovereign Pontiff and is offered to children of married couples in the Church according to the Catholic rite. To be eligible, the child must be under one year of age.

Each child can be accompanied by four guests: the two parents, the godfather and the godmother; the rest of the family can follow the ceremony live via Vatican Media and partner TV and radio channels.

From cardinals to infants

After a dress rehearsal in the absence of the Pope, the ceremony itself is quite sumptuous and solemn, thanks also to the wonderful musical accompaniment provided by the Sistine Chapel choir.

This splendid five-year setting is imbued with the warm and young atmosphere of happy families. Baby gurgles echo under Michelangelo’s vault, and a bunch of strollers occupy a corner of the chapel.

And as Mario Galgano reveals, there is even a row of changing tables set up for the occasion nearby in one of the rooms of the Apostolic Palace. After all, he adds, this is what Pope Francis wants, as evidenced by his words of comfort to the parents of those newly baptized in 2020 when he told them to “let their children cry and cry” during the mass.

“They have a choral dimension”, declared the Bishop of Rome on this occasion. “It is enough that one of them starts to ‘sing’ and everyone follows and there will be a concert. (…) It’s a beautiful homily”, he declared.

Baptism ceremony in the Sistine Chapel

Baptism ceremony in the Sistine Chapel

Give visibility to children

According to Mario Galgano, such moments are also an opportunity to “give visibility” to the children of the Vatican.

“People see the Vatican as a big convent. But there are families who live and work here, and their children are present and participate in the life of the city,” he said.

Sofia Galgano is now 8 years old and, of course, does not remember her exceptional baptism, but she is well aware of it as she prepares to receive her First Communion in the German parish of Rome.

As for the sixteen children of this “2022 vintage”, their spiritual life begins under great auspices.

Baptism ceremony and mass in the Sistine Chapel

Baptism ceremony and mass in the Sistine Chapel


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