Pope Francis spent nearly two hours after today’s general audience greeting people, blessing the sick, speaking with newlyweds and receiving notes, letters and late Christmas gifts from the crowd. He also watched a brief performance by acrobats, jugglers and clowns who were part of an international Golden Circus festival.
During the first general audience of 2014, the Pope told the faithful that baptism isn’t just a formal ritual, but profoundly changes people, giving them unwavering hope and the strength to forgive and love others.
“With baptism, we are immersed in that inexhaustible source of life that is Jesus’ death, the greatest act of love in all of history,” he said.
Baptism isn’t merely “a simple rite, a formal act of the Church,” he explained. “It is an act that profoundly touches our existence” and radically changes the person.
The Pope reminded his audience that it was very important for Christians to know the date of their baptism because it was “a happy day” of celebration.
The power of baptism frees people from original sin, grafts them to God and makes them bearers of “a new hope” that nothing and nobody can destroy, he said.
“Thanks to baptism, we are able to forgive, to love – even those who offend us and hurt us; that we are able to recognise the face of Christ in the least and the poor,” Francis said.
During his usual rounds through St Peter’s Square in the popemobile before the start of the audience, the Pope caught sight of a friend in the crowd. Francis had the driver stop and gestured for his friend to board the vehicle.
The friend, Father Fabian Baez, sat in the back seat, then walked with the Pope to a special seating section for guests.
Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, said the priest works in a parish in Buenos Aires and that the Pope said Father Baez was “a great confessor.”