The ABCs of sponsorship: how the diocese guides baptisms

PROSPECT HEIGHTS – For the next three years, if Catholic families in the Archdiocese of Catania in Italy want to baptize their babies, they will have to do so without a godfather and godmother.

Godfathers Filippo Bacarella (left) and Christina Panepinto (right) say they will be ready to help parents Piera and Thomas DeVito raise little Massimo DeVito in the Catholic faith. (Photos: courtesy of Christina Panepinto)

In a decision that came into effect on October 1, Archbishop Salvatore Gristina banned the practice, fearing that Catholics would take sponsorship seriously.

The Code of Canon Law requires that a godfather or godmother be a person who leads a life in accordance with the teachings of the Church and be present to teach the baptized person the Catholic values ​​to be respected.

Clerics in Catania say Archbishop Gristina has become convinced that in too many cases the role of godfather has been reduced to a “photo op” in church.

It’s a different story here in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Christina Panepinto was not familiar with the ban in Catania, but she knows the role of godmother and takes it seriously. Panepinto, a parishioner at Holy Trinity Church in Whitestone, is the godmother of her nephew, Massimo DeVito, who was baptized in February.

“I have been truly honored to take on this role and fill this position because it is an important position to take – to help guide my godson in his life and in our faith,” she said.

Little Massimo’s father, Thomas DeVito, is Panepinto’s brother. DeVito is the godfather of Panepinto’s little boy, Antonino, baptized in July. “My brother and I have grown up with a strong faith and we want to share it,” she said.

Panepinto’s attitude is one that Brooklyn Diocese officials hope has spread.

Godparents must understand what they are doing, according to Church rules.

“The primary teachers and witnesses of the faith are the parents. But the godparents are there to help the parents, ”said Christian Rada, director of marriage, family formation and respect for life education in the Diocese of Brooklyn. “And if the parents cannot guide the child in matters of faith, the godfather steps in to fill that role.”

The work begins with the celebration of the sacrament of Baptism.

“The rite itself is to remind the godparents that they are above all witnesses of the faith”, declared Father Joseph Gibino, parish priest of the Holy Trinity and vicar for evangelization and catechesis. “I always ask parents this question, ‘Who do you want to raise your child in case something unfortunate happens to you?’ “

Last year, 6,362 babies were baptized in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Another 488 children above infancy were baptized, along with 349 adults.

Among the requirements: A sponsor must be at least 16 years old and have received the sacraments of Baptism, Communion and Confirmation. If the godfather is married, he must have been married in the church. But part of the protocol might surprise Catholics: there is no rule in canon law that new baptized must have godparents.

Christina Panepinto says that when her godson Massimo DeVito gets older, she plans to tell him about her family’s legacy – a legacy built on a strong Catholic faith.

In addition to guiding his nephew, Panepinto sees his role as that of passing on a family heritage. “My brother and I lost our mother two years ago. We see sponsorship as a way to use our faith to help our two sons bond with their grandmother, who is not there physically but who has passed away and is in another life, ”he said. she declared.

She intends to tell Massimo stories about her grandmother, she said.

While the decision on how to prepare parents and godparents for baptism is left to individual pastors, the diocese makes recommendations.

A popular program used by parishes is “Baptism Matters,” Renew International training sessions that include videos and exercises designed to give participants the tools they need to live out their calling as Godmother.

Another commonly used program is “Reborn,” a four-part course prepared by the Augustine Institute. It includes a session entitled “The gift of godparents: more than cards and gifts”.

“There are many other programs that parishes use, and some parishes have designed theirs,” said Father Gibino.

Parishes also have baptismal preparation teams to help pastors and families. “I believe that the faith training that we give to our baptismal preparation teams makes it clear that it is not only the godfather and godmother who will help to raise the child in the faith, but the whole denominational community in his whole, ”he said.

Father Gibino loves to celebrate baptisms. “I always like to hold the baby before baptism to get him used to the feeling of being in my arms because it is so important for the baby to feel connected to the sacrament celebrant,” he said. -he declares.

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