‘Baptism in a day’ in Baltimore welcomes unbaptized children into the Faith

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Baltimore baptism
Father Louis A. Bianco, rector of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in the Homeland neighborhood of Baltimore, baptizes 6-year-old Michelangelo Woel during a special "baptism-in-a-day" celebration Jan. 20, 2024, organized by the Archdiocese of Baltimore to welcome unbaptized children into the faith. Twenty children ranging in age from approximately 1 to 6 were baptized. (OSV News photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

BALTIMORE (OSV News) — Todd Gustin and his wife, Sara Jeurling, had every intention of getting their infant daughter baptized just as her big brother had received the sacrament ahead of her.

But when Liv Grace Gustin was born just one week before the COVID-19 shutdown nearly four years ago, all those plans came to a screeching halt.

“She was kind of a COVID baby,” remembered Gustin, whose family worships at St. Ignatius Church in Baltimore and the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in the city’s Homeland neighborhood. “I was raised in a very traditional Catholic family and it was very important to us, but we were unable to do that because of the pandemic.”

Gustin said his family was elated to witness Father Louis Bianco, the cathedral’s rector, pour water over Liv’s head during a special group baptism liturgy at the cathedral earlier this year. The nearly 4-year-old girl was among 20 children ranging in age from approximately 1 to 6 who were all baptized as part of a special “baptism-in-a-day” celebration.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori came up with the idea for the event, a first-of-its-kind liturgy inspired by a priest friend in Connecticut who has had success with similar group baptisms in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

The baptism-in-a-day event was designed to be welcoming to families that had not had their children baptized for varying reasons. It included sacramental preparation, lunch, an invitation to become involved in parish life at the cathedral and the conferral of baptism during the 5 p.m. Mass — all within a four-hour period. The cathedral made godparents available for those families that needed them.

Newly baptized children hold baptismal candles at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore Jan. 20, 2024, during a special “baptism-in-a-day” celebration organized by the Archdiocese of Baltimore to welcome unbaptized children into the faith. Twenty children ranging in age from approximately 1 to 6 were baptized. (OSV News photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

Declining rates of sacraments

Stacy Golden, director of the Office of Family, Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the archdiocesan Institute for Evangelization, said the cathedral promoted the Jan. 20 baptism-in-a-day event extensively in advance, including at Christmas Masses, which is where the Gustin family learned about it.

While she didn’t have exact figures, she noted that the number of families receiving baptism and other sacraments has declined steadily in the Archdiocese of Baltimore over recent decades — even prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

The archdiocese isn’t alone.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, there were more than 1.2 million infant baptisms in 1965 in the United States. That number declined to just over 996,000 in 2000 and to 437,942 in 2022 — even as the general population grew.

“People are disaffiliating from the church at a young age,” Golden said. “We’re at least one to two generations out of families where religion hasn’t been prevalent in their lives. We are also in a culture now where people want to let children decide things on their own. So some people think they’ll let their children grow up and decide on their own whether they want to be baptized.”

The baptism-in-a-day event helps parents whose unbaptized children are older feel more comfortable about having their children receive the sacrament, Golden said.

“They can see that there are other young people in the same age bracket also receiving the sacrament,” she said.

A creative church

Golden said the novel approach is in keeping with Pope Francis’ call for the Church to be a “field hospital” that ministers to people where they are.

“We need to be creative,” she said. “How can we invite them back to encounter the Lord and have a conversion experience? I think the baptism-in-a-day was a great initiative to really show our parishes that it’s OK to do things differently.”

In his homily at the baptism Mass, Father Bianco thanked parents and godparents for “taking this significant step in ensuring that these children have a relationship with God by becoming his sons and daughters through the sacrament of baptism.”

He noted that Christ came as priest, prophet and king — and it is through baptism that believers can join him in that mission.

“We are priests in that we offer prayers and sacrifices to God and for others,” the rector explained. “We are kings in that we help usher in the kingdom of God in this world by bringing Christ to our families, our friends and the wider community by conducting our lives as Christ would have us do.”

Followers also are prophets, he said, “in that we proclaim the truths of our faith, teaching about God’s ways through the example of our words and our actions.”

Several weeks after she was baptized, Liv still talks about receiving the sacrament, according to her father.

“When we drive by the cathedral on the way to her preschool, more often than not, she points out that that’s where she was baptized,” Gustin told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet. “It is really sweet and endearing and genuine. She definitely knows that it was her special day.”

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