VATICAN ( -- Christian baptism has a meaning far superior to that of Jewish or pagan initiation rites, Pope John Paul II said at his public audience today.

      Speaking at his regular Wednesday audience, on the theme of baptism, the Holy Father explained that unlike the rites of any other faith, Christian baptism has the power to wipe away sin, "because it immerses us in the Paschal mystery of Christ." Some other rituals involve an ablution as a symbol of purification, but baptism actually accomplishes what it signifies-- "the purification of consciences, through the pardon of sins."

      It is impossible, the Pope added, to separate the gift of faith from the sacrament of baptism. Conversion is not merely an "interior attitude" but an "entrance into the Christian community," he observed. Thus baptism involves both the remission of sins and the incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ.

      Jesus himself was baptized, the Pope said, although he was "perfectly innocent" and thus in no need of forgiveness. Nevertheless Jesus voluntarily was baptized by John the Baptist. This was essentially a "penitential rite," the Pope remarked; it was designed to encourage Jews to seek pardon for their sins. But Jesus, at the start of his public life, was baptized in order to show "the solidarity of the Redeemer with the sinners," he explained. Because of that solidarity, baptism for Christians entails immersion not merely in water but in the Passion of Christ.

      The baptism of Christ contains two important elements, the Pope said: the special effusion of the Holy Spirit, which prefigures the communication of the Spirit to baptized Christians; and the expression of the "ties of love" which unite Christ with his Father, again prefiguring the status of Christians as adopted sons of God.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT:To subscribe to Catholic World News Service, available daily by e-mail, click here .

April 2, 1998 volume 9, no. 66         DAILY CATHOLIC