For 40 years, the pope has baptized infants in the historic Sistine Chapel, underneath the beautiful frescoes painted by Michelangelo. It is a unique tradition, one that was started by St. John Paul II.
Initially this tradition started in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace on January 11, 1981, but then St. John Paul II moved it to the Sistine Chapel on January 9, 1983.
St. John Paul II explained his joy in baptizing children in the Sistine Chapel in his 2000 homily.
It is very significant that the sacrament of Baptism is being administered in this Sistine Chapel, where stupendous masterpieces of art remind us of the wonders of salvation history, from man’s origins to the universal judgement.
St. John Paul II loved the Sistine Chapel and commissioned a lengthy restoration of the Chapel that removed much of the soot and grime that covered the frescoes. He gave a homily at the conclusion of the restoration in 1994, reflecting on the beauty of the Chapel.
The frescoes that we contemplate here introduce us to the world of Revelation. The truths of our faith speak to us here from all sides. From them the human genius has drawn its inspiration, committing itself to portraying them in forms of unparalleled beauty. This is why the Last Judgment above all awakens within us the keen desire to profess our faith in God, Creator of all things seen and unseen. And at the same time, it stimulates us to reassert our adherence to the risen Christ, who will come again on the Last Day as the supreme Judge of the living and the dead. Before this masterpiece we confess Christ, King of the ages, whose kingdom will have no end.
This yearly ceremony keeps the Sistine Chapel in use as it was meant to be, a sacred space for the worship of God, recalling the many events of salvation history.