The Interwebz are ablaze with the story that Pope Francis encouraged breastfeeding—and in the Sistine Chapel of all places!
What did he say? And what did he mean?
Here are 5 things to know and share . . .
1) When did Pope Francis make his remarks?
It was Sunday, January 12, the commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord.
He was in the Sistine Chapel, where he baptized 32 babies.
It is customary for Popes to perform baptisms on this day.
He took the occasion to give a brief homily.
It’s online in Italian here, but the full English translation is not up yet.
2) What did he say?
According to a Vatican Radio story:
The Holy Father concluded his homily with a special word of affection for the newly baptized children.
“Today the choir sings,” he said, “but the most beautiful choir is [the choir] of children” making noise.
He continued, “Some are crying, because they are uncomfortable, or because they are hungry. If they are hungry, mothers, give them something to eat... they are the central figures, the protagonists [of this celebration].”
It was with this “awareness of being the transmitters of faith” that Pope Francis continued on to the ceremony of Baptism.
3) Wait. He didn’t mention breastfeeding. Is this story being distorted?
It’s true that he doesn’t mention breastfeeding. He just says “Give them something to eat.”
So this isn’t a ringing, explicit endorsement of public breastfeeding.
However, he’s already on record as having no problem with public breastfeeding, including in his own presence.
Since he made a blanket invitation—or request—to give the children something to eat, and since many mothers breastfeed, this clearly was not excluded from his meaning.
So even though he didn’t say, “Go ahead and breastfeed” in words, he was giving the mothers who do breastfeed permission to do so.
He was also giving mothers who don’t breastfeed permission to bottlefeed—or otherwise feed—their babies as well.
4) What is the Sistine Chapel?
It is a chapel that is located at St. Peter’s Basicilica that is principally famous for two things:
1. It is covered with world-famous paintings by Michaelangelo and other artists.
2. It is the room where new popes get elected.
Despite these notable things, it is not the most important place of worship in the Vatican. That would be the High Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Sistine Chapel is named after Pope Sixtus IV, who commissioned a team of artists to do the paintings in it.
(There is also another Sistine Chapel in St. Mary Major’s.)
5) So what should we make of all this?
Despite the fact that Pope Francis doesn’t explicitly mention breastfeeding, he’s certainly including it in his invitation.
As a result, he doesn’t have a problem with women breastfeeding their children even in one of the most famous places of worship in the world.
It’s scarcely likely that he would draw the line at the Sistine Chapel and say, “You can breastfeed here, but don’t do it in the main area of St. Peter’s Basilica itself.
It thus seems fair to say that Pope Francis doesn’t have a problem with women breastfeeding in church. Period.
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