VATICAN CITY — The best thing parents can pass on to their children is their religious faith, Pope Francis said as he baptized 26 babies.
Ensure this faith "not be lost, help make it grow and pass it on as a legacy," he told the infants' parents and godparents.
The pope presided over the annual morning liturgy in the Sistine Chapel Jan. 10, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
He told the parents that when he asked them, "What do you ask of God's church" for their child and they responded, "Faith," the ritual was part of "a chain" of handing on the faith throughout history.
"These children, as the years go by, will be taking your place with another child — your grandchildren — and they will ask the same thing: faith," he said in his brief, unscripted homily.
"Don't forget that the greatest legacy that you can leave your children is faith," he said, adding he hoped they would always be capable of helping their children grow in the faith.
The infants, wearing their Sunday best — chiffon or lacy dresses, cotton cardigans or plush overalls — were baptized over a font supported by an ornately detailed bronze olive tree. One by one, the pope poured water from a gilded shell and gently caressed the head of each of the 13 girls and 13 boys.
As he has done in the past, he told the mothers not to hesitate in breast-feeding their babies during the ceremony.
Later in the day, before praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis said being baptized carries with it "the responsibility of following Jesus — the obedient servant — and reproducing in us his same likeness, that is, gentleness, humility, tenderness."
Even though "this is not easy, especially if we are surrounded by so much intolerance, pride, rigidity," he said, "it is possible with the power that comes from the Holy Spirit."
"The Holy Spirit, received for the first time on the day of our baptism, opens our heart to the truth, to the whole truth. The Spirit drives our lives along the challenging, but joyous path of charity and solidarity toward our brothers and sisters," he said.
He reminded people to find out the date of their baptism if they didn't know because it was an important day that merits celebrating every year.
"It is the date of our rebirth as children of God," he said, and "celebrating that day signifies and reaffirms our belonging to Jesus with the commitment to live like Christians, members of the church and a new humanity in which all are brothers and sisters."