By Gudrun Schultz

VATICAN CITY, January 9, 2006 ( – Pope Benedict spoke passionately against the “culture of death” which pervades the modern world, in an unprepared homily yesterday during the first baptisms of his pontificate.

“In our times, we need to say ‘no’ to the largely dominant culture of death,” he said. “We say ‘no’ to this culture to cultivate a culture of life.” Pope Benedict urged people to rediscover their faith.

Speaking to a small group of parents and family members in the Sistine Chapel, as he baptized ten infants, Pope Benedict denounced what he called the anti-culture of the modern world, comparing it to the decadence of the ancient Roman Empire.

“[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 spoke of Rome’s ancient Colosseum amphitheatre and the gardens of the emperor Nero, where Christians were once publicly tortured and 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 in his pontificate that Pope Benedict turned from a prepared text to speak spontaneously on another subject.

He spoke against the “thing-ification of mankind,” the reduction of people to objects to be used and discarded at will, with no intrinsic value of their own.

“Baptism today is a great ‘yes’ to life, a ‘yes’ to Christ, a ‘yes’ to the One Who conquered death,” Pope Benedict said before poring the baptismal water over the heads of the babies, 5 girls and 5 boys.

He spoke on the Ten Commandments, which are not prohibitions but a vision of life, he said, adding that they are a “yes” to God Who gives meaning to life.

“‘Yes’ to the family, the fourth commandment; ‘yes’ to life, the fifth commandment; ‘yes’ to responsible love, the sixth commandment; ‘yes’ to solidarity, social responsibility and justice, the seventh commandment; ‘yes’ to truth, the eighth commandment; ‘yes’ to respect for others and for what belongs to them, ninth and tenth commandments. This is the philosophy and the culture of life that take concrete and practical form in communion with Christ.”

Afterwards, the pope gave his usual Sunday address to the thousands of pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.
“This celebration of the baptism of our Lord is a joyful reminder of the gift of our own baptism, grateful for the new life given to us in the sacrament,” he said. “May Christians always bear witness in the world to the values and truths of the kingdom of God.”

Sunday’s baptisms were a renewal of the tradition of baptizing infants on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which Pope John Paul II had been unable to perform during the last two years of his pontificate, due to ill health.