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Baptism at sea – refugee child born during boat rescue

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Vivan made one wish very clear: she was Catholic, and she wanted her newborn son to be baptized. (Credit: Catholic Military Chaplaincy)

Munich, Germany, Jul 20, 2016 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the midst of her stressful overseas voyage to Europe, Vivian, a very pregnant Nigerian woman who departed from the Libyan coast, ended up giving birth on the German naval ship that rescued her and her 654 companions.

Her first request when she saw the military chaplain on board? That her newborn son get baptized.

According to the German Military Chaplaincy, Vivian, who is Catholic and likely fleeing ongoing violence and persecution in her country, was one of 655 people who piled onto four flimsy dinghies in order to reach Europe with the hope of a better life.

On July 6, their first day at sea, a German naval ship saw the boats, and, recognizing the precarious condition of the dinghies, described as “un-seaworthy,” brought them on board. When military chaplain Fr. Jochen Folz saw that Vivian had given birth on board the ship after being rescued, he and the medical team immediately offered their support.

After only a few minutes Vivan made one wish very clear: she was Catholic, and she wanted her newborn son to be baptized. So Fr. Folz got to work right away with the help of ship's officers and crew: the radio operator enabled the Internet so the priest could access the English texts needed for the rite of Baptism, while others found a sauceboat and matching tray for a makeshift “baptismal” font. A candle also emerged from the officers' wardrobe.

A woman named Martina O., who was also rescued from the dinghies, was allowed to accompany the birth, and agreed to take on the role of the child's godmother.

Though it was dark outside, the medical container was brightly lit by neon lights, and was filled with soldiers who wanted to be present for the special moment. Fr. Folz began by greeting the attendees and offering a brief introduction to the baptism.

The rite then proceeded as usual: Fr. Folz asked Vivian: “What name will you give your child,” to which she replied: “Ikpomosa.” When the priest asked her “What do you ask of the Church for Ikpomosa?” Vivian smiled and said proudly: “Baptism, faith and eternal life.” The priest then traced a sign of the cross on the newborn's forehead, inviting his mother and godmother to do the same.

After pouring water over the child's head three times with the sauceboat while reciting the ancient biblical formula: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the priest then lit the candle and passed to his godmother.

When the time came to place a white garment over the baby as a sign of his new life in Christ, Fr. Folz draped his white priestly stole over the newborn as a symbol of the divine sonship since there was obviously no white baptismal gown.

As a baptismal gift, baby Ikpomosa was given a medal of  St. Michael the Archangel, while Vivian and Martina were each given a medal of the Virgin Mary. All three had been prepared by a medical soldier, who tied a ribbon on each so they could be hung or tied somewhere safe.

While this wasn't the first time Fr. Folz has baptized someone in action, it did mark the first time he did so for a refugee child. The rescue operation marked the priest's first experience in the Navy, after having served in several land operations.

While serving in Afghanistan, he baptized two German soldiers and one American soldier, and has administered the Sacrament of Confirmation on several occasions. However, the baptism in the Mediterranean of a child born to a woman risking her life at sea in hopes of a better life for herself and her child, was something completely new and out of the ordinary.

In light of their uncertain future, Fr. Folz told Vivian and Martina that “the Church offers us a home all over the world, and Ikpomosa is now under the special protection of heaven.”

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