POPE BAPTIZES 19 CHILDREN; EXHORTS PARENTS AFTER SUFFERING DIZZY SPELL

      VATICAN (CWN) -- Pope John Paul II encouraged parents to raise their children in the practice of the Catholic faith, during Sunday ceremonies in which he baptized 19 babies into the faith.

      As is traditional on the feast of the Baptism of Christ, the Holy Father welcomed a group of youngsters into the Christian community, in ceremonies that took place in the Sistine Chapel. The babies-- nine girls and ten boys-- came from four different countries: Italy, Poland, Mexico, Brazil.

      In a brief homily, the Pope remarked that the diversity of backgrounds among the babies he had just baptized was an indication of "the universal appeal of the faith." And he exhorted their parents to carry out their "very high vocation" to train the children in the practice of that faith.

      At his Angelus audience shortly after that ceremony, the Pope spoke of the joy that the Christian community feels at the birth of every child, since each baby is a manifestation of God's love, made in the very image of God. He said that every child who comes into the world, and every child who is baptized, is an "epiphany" of the Lord in human society.

      The Holy Father commented that the importance of the baptismal vocation increases as each Christian grows into maturity. Pointing to the example of Jesus, who chose to be baptized by St. John the Baptism, he called upon all Christians to pray "that we may renew our decision always to take advantage of this flame of faith, which makes us beloved children of the Father."

      According to several eyewitnesses who were present at the ceremony, the Holy Father stumbled as he tried to rise after genuflecting when he entered the Sistine Chapel on Sunday morning for the ceremonies at which he baptized 9 babies. Observers said that the Pope appeared to have suffered a temporary spell of weakness or disorientation. However he regained his balance with the help of nearby clerics, and was able to perform the two-hour ceremony without any outward sign of disease of distress. Later in the day he also delivered his Angelus message from the balcony of his apartment, again without showing any sign of difficulty.

      Vatican spokesmen denied that the Pope is suffering from any illness. One official suggested that the Holy Father was simply tired. A physician who was asked to comment on the incident speculated that the Pope may have taken some form of medication just prior to the ceremony, in order to calm the persistent trembling of his hand. Such medicines, he said, usually lower the blood pressure, which could give rise to dizziness if the patient tries to rise quickly from a sitting-- or in this case genuflecting-- position.

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January 13, 1998 volume 9, no. 13          DAILY CATHOLIC