Wednesday, July 02, 2008

How'd you get here from there--Part X: Adoption and Baptism

Another Catholic adoptive parent and Ark reader has asked about the Sacrament of Baptism and international adoption.

Even if you are not an adoptive parent, you can probably understand how difficult it can be to keep track of your child's paperwork from their early infancy. (Unless you are MY mother, who somehow managed to squirrel away things like an envelope with my first nail clippings or the actual glass bottle from the first sugar water I ever drank). The process of pinning down such paperwork becomes difficult for any adoptive parent, but when you step out into countries where even birth certificates are not regularly issued, finding a copy of a Baptismal certificate can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Usually, children in Ethiopia are brought up in a faith, and usually, an adoption agency at least knows which faith they practice. Typically children are Muslim or Orthodox Christian. Based on the Ethiopian Orthodox Church's beliefs on Baptism, it is highly likely that they have received a valid form (This would mean that the person who baptized them used water and the words, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.") of the sacrament as children.

But simply assuming that this is the case, doesn't for a Baptism make. And, speaking personally, about our own adopted children's Baptism, I can say for a fact that there were real, tangible benefits that day as well. (Sanctifying grace is great and all, but it's hard for an eight year old or an eight month old to fully appreciate that most important part of the sacrament). The Sacrament of Baptism in the Catholic Church is one of the three Sacraments of Initiation. For a child who has just been picked up, quite literally, and brought half-way around the world, to be welcomed by his or her new family is one thing. But to be welcomed by the family of God is quite another. For us, it was a welcome home party in the truest sense.

So, what's an adoptive parent to do without those all important Baptismal certificates? Well, the Church, in her wisdom, provides for just such a circumstance. A conditional Baptism is performed, which basically says, "Hey,we want to ensure you were baptized, but we're not sure if you were. We're going to baptize you today, but if God already knows you to be baptized, then this ceremony is just icing on the cake."

If there is any doubt that Baptism validly took place, that is, according to the method above, a "conditional Baptism" is later administered. A conditional Baptism is also the style of private Baptism used when baptizing someone who is not sure he is baptized. The words of a conditional Baptism are:
If thou art not baptized, I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Si non es baptizatus (-a), ego te baptizo in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

Again, private Baptism should always be followed, if possible, by the formal Solemn Rite of Baptism.

Any other people have experience with international adoption and Baptism? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

A friend of mine adopted 3 older children from Bulgaria, so they had been baptized in the Orthodox Church. When they arrived here our pastor had a ceremony of reception into the Roman Catholic Church, since they had already completed their sacraments of initiation. It was a wonderful and welcoming ceremony.

Anne said...

Though we didn't adopt internationally, we did have to wait until the birth parents' rights were terminated before we could baptize. Our pastor would only baptize if he knew they would be raised Catholic, and neither birth parent was Catholic. It was a lesson in patience for that paperwork to 'go through' and then did we celebrate at their Baptisms!!