VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI baptized eight people during a candlelit Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter Basilica early Sunday, opening the most important event of the Christian Church calendar.
Benedict started the Mass by blessing a large white candle and carrying it down the main aisle of the darkened basilica. Slowly, the twinkle of candlelight lit up the entire basilica as the faithful shared the lone flame.
The Church considers the period between Good Friday, which commemorates Jesus` crucifixion, and Easter Sunday, which marks his resurrection, as the most important of all vigils.
"In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil," Benedict said during his homily.
He baptized six adults and two children --- part of the joyful renewal Christians associate with Easter.
"Baptism is more than a bath, a purification. It is more than becoming part of a community," Benedict said. "It is a new birth. A new beginning in life."
Applause rang out in the basilica after the eight were blessed with holy water. One of the baptized children, a little boy, wiped the water from his eyes as he sucked on a lollipop.
Benedict, who turns 80 later this month, appeared to tire by the end of Mass, which lasted more than two hours and capped a busy Holy Week. On Good Friday, Benedict presided over long back-to-back public ceremonies --- an afternoon service and a late-night Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum to mark Jesus` suffering and death.
The Via Crucis procession is a Good Friday ritual in many parts of the world.
Tens of thousands of faithful are expected to flock to St. Peter`s Square early Sunday for the pope`s Easter Mass and later to hear his "Urbi et Orbi" message delivered from the basilica`s central balcony overlooking the square. The message --- "to the city and to the world" --- is an occasion for the pope to talk about international crises, moral issues and other concerns of the Church.
After Sunday`s events, Benedict is scheduled to head to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, in the Alban Hills south of Rome, for a few days of rest.
When he returns to Rome, Benedict will have two more important events on his calendar: his 80th birthday on April 16, and the second anniversary of his election as pope three days later.