Pope Francis has become an unlikely advocate for public breastfeeding, by encouraging mothers to feed their babies in the Sistine Chapel.
During a ceremony in Vatican City on Sunday, the Pope baptised 32 babies and told their mothers: “If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice, because they are the most important people here.”
The ceremony saw the Pope deliver a brief, improvised homily centred on the children - a departure from the long, theology-laden sermons given by his predecessors.
“Today the choir will sing but the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of the infants who will make a noise. Some will cry because they are not comfortable or because they are hungry,” he told parents.
His words come after he linked breastfeeding to recycling food and wastefulness in an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa last month, after a mother seemed shy about feeding her child in his presence.
He described how as he approached the mother at his weekly Papal General Audience, her child was “crying its eyes out” with hunger and so he asked her to “please give it something to eat!”
He added:“I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat!”
In another apparent first in the Vatican, the parents of one of the babies at the ceremony were not married in church but at a civil service in a town hall - meaning their marriage is technically not recognised by the Catholic Church.
But the Pope has said several times since his election that the Church must not make children of couples in irregular situations feel like second-class faithful, and agreed to baptise 7-month-old Giulia Scardia into the faith.
“We decided to get married very quickly,” Giulia's mother Nicoletta told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. “We were in a hurry and there was no time to organise a church ceremony. Maybe we will do it sometime.”
Last year, Pope Francis has had to defend himself after he was criticised by prominent conservatives for preaching so-called “pure Marxism”.
In a separate interview with La Stampa, the Pope called Marxism “wrong”, but did not condemn people who hold left-wing views.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies