Pope Benedict has celebrated his first baptism ceremony, in the Sistine Chapel. In homily, he denounced what he called the "culture of death" that pervades the modern world.
Surrounded by the magnificent frescoed walls of the Sistine Chapel, Pope Benedict baptized five boy and five girls. He resumed a tradition that, due to ill health, his predecessor had stopped practicing during the past few years.
The ceremony was held on the day the Roman Catholic Church remembers the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Ten couples held their babies, dressed in beautiful white dresses.
The pope said, "we hope for a good life and happiness for these children, whose future is still unknown." He said that, with the baptism, a child joins a company of friends that will never abandon him, in life or in death.
He said no one knows what will happen on our planet and in Europe in the coming decades. "But we are certain," he added, "that those who belong to the family of God are never alone."
In his improvised homily, Pope Benedict also used the opportunity to denounce what he called a "culture of death" in today's world. "In our times, we need to say 'no' to the largely dominant culture of death," he said. "We say 'no' to this culture to cultivate a culture of life."
He described what he called an "anti-culture" of drug use, flight from reality, illusions, false happiness, and sexuality based purely on pleasure and devoid of responsibility.
Before pouring water on the heads of the babies, Pope Benedict said, baptism is a strong "yes" to Christ, a "yes" to life.
After the ceremony, at midday, as he does every Sunday, the pope addressed thousands of pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square. He also spoke in English.
"I greet all the English-speaking visitors present at this Angelus," he said. "This celebration of the baptism of our Lord is a joyful reminder of the gift of our own baptism, grateful for the new life given to us in the sacrament. May Christians always bear witness in the world to the values and truths of the kingdom of God."
Sunday's baptisms were Pope Benedict's first. His predecessor, Pope John Paul, baptized almost 1,400 babies during his more than 26-year pontificate.