January 8, 2006

Pope attacks “culture of death” at first baptisms

By Crispian Balmer

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict performed the first
baptisms of his pontificate on Sunday, using the occasion to
launch an impassioned denunciation of irresponsible sex and a
"culture of death" that he said pervaded the modern world.

Pope Benedict, abandoning his prepared sermon, compared the
wild excesses of the ancient Roman empire to 21st century
society and urged people to rediscover their faith.

"In our times we need to say 'no' to the largely dominant
culture of death," Benedict said during his improvised homily
in the frescoed Sistine Chapel where he was elected Pope last

"(There is) an anti-culture demonstrated by the flight to
drugs, by the flight from reality, by illusions, by false
happiness ... displayed in sexuality which has become pure
pleasure devoid of responsibility," he added.

Benedict did not spell out what he meant by a "culture of
death," but the phrase was a rallying cry of his predecessor
John Paul who regularly used the term to define abortion and
artificial birth control.

With Michelangelo's dramatic depiction of the Last Judgment
as a backdrop, Benedict attacked the "thing-ification of
mankind," suggesting that people had become little more than
objects to be traded, picked up and discarded at will.

He singled out ancient Rome's Colosseum amphitheatre and
the gardens of the emperor Nero, where Christians were once
martyred, as a "real perversion of joy and a perversion of the
sense of life."

"The anti-culture of death was a love of lies and of
deceit. It was an abuse of the body as a commodity and as a
product. Even in our times there is this culture and we must
say 'No' to it," he said.

It was the first time since he became Pope that Benedict
has ignored the prepared text of his homily, sent to the media
beforehand, and instead spoken at length off the cuff.

The official speech focused on the significance of baptism,
which marks the admission of a person into the community of

Benedict was following in John Paul's footsteps by
performing baptisms in the Sistine Chapel on the day when Roman
Catholics remember Christ's own baptism in the river Jordan.

"This is a 'yes' to Christ, a 'yes' to the victors of
death, a 'yes' to life," Benedict said before carefully pouring
water on the heads of the babies - 5 girls and 5 boys.

John Paul baptised almost 1,400 infants during his 26-year
reign, but was forced to miss the Sistine Chapel ceremony in
the last two years of his pontificate because of ill-health.