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.
The bug was found by Vatican officials preparing the parish rectory for the January 21-25 visit to the Communist nation. The El Pais newspaper did not report the location of the parish. The Vatican secretariat of state protested to the Cuban government and threatened to cancel the trip, the newspaper said. Vatican officials refused to comment on the story.
Cuban officials said the bug may indeed have been in the house, but said it would have dated from the dictatorship of Fulgencio Bautista, who was overthrown by Fidel Castro in 1959. El Pais quoted experts who said the microphone could not have been 40 years old. The newspaper added that the declaration of Christmas as a national holiday was an attempt by Castro to revive the good will of the Catholic Church.
Other prominent recipients of the Knights and Dames of St. Gregory the Great honor included the entertainer Bob Hope and his wife, Dolores, and Roy Disney, vice chairman of the Walt Disney Co. Murdoch, who is not Catholic, was honored for his philanthropy toward a Catholic education foundation, but critics said the News Corp. chairman flaunted Catholic teaching in his "sex-filled" British tabloid newspapers and through the racy shows on the Fox television network.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles argued the controversy surrounding Murdoch should not cancel the fact that he has done "a great deal of good through his charitable works and philanthropy." Candidates for award are nominated by their dioceses in southern California for their work in the region and then Pope John Paul confirms the appointments.