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Romanians call for an end to the immersion of babies in water during baptism after the death of a newborn
Tens of thousands of Romanians are demanding that the country’s Orthodox Church ban the tradition of submerging babies’ heads during baptism after a child drowns during baptism. An online petition has now collected over 63,000 names following the February 1 tragedy in the northern city of Suceava. The priest reportedly completely immersed the six-week-old boy, who was also prematurely, during the service, but stopped when the baby stopped crying and began to turn blue around the lips. Although the child was hospitalized, he died in intensive care the next day. The police have opened a criminal investigation. The death of the child sparked an outburst of anger against the Church in Romania and called for the old tradition of immersing babies three times during the baptismal service to be deleted. Vladimir Dumitru, a teacher and organizer of the petition, has claimed that tradition often involves brutality and that it needs to be discarded. “We are not calling for the end of the practice of baptism, but rather changing it so that babies are not exposed to these unnecessary and absurd risks,” wrote Dumitru on the petition page. He added that the immersion should be replaced with a “symbolic splash of water on the baby’s head”. Maria Stamatin, a doctor from the intensive care unit at the maternity hospital in the city of Iasi in northeast Romania, warned that even a small amount of water getting into a young baby’s lungs can be very dangerous. “Especially when the infants are newborn, a small amount of water can cause cardiorespiratory arrest and, if not promptly addressed, even death of the baby,” said Dr. Stamatin told Libertatea, a Romanian newspaper. After the tragedy, Vasile Banescu, a spokesman for the Romanian Orthodox Church, urged prosecutors to speed up the investigation into the incident. He also encouraged the churches to change their practices, recommending that they sprinkle holy water over babies instead of completely immersing them. Priests contacted by Libertatea told the newspaper that many of them preferred to sprinkle water on their heads, but felt under pressure from the church hierarchy to follow tradition and fully immerse the baby three times. Although still widespread in the Orthodox world, immersion is becoming less popular and more and more parents are opting for the safer and less stressful practice of just soaking the baby’s body and sprinkling water over the head. Concerns about the practice of immersing babies in other countries with Orthodox populations such as Cyprus and Russia emerged after videos surfaced of children being fully and forcibly submerged in water despite screaming of distress. Traditionalists argue that, despite the dangers of immersion, most children escape the practice unscathed. Archbishop Teodosie Petrescu, an influential clergyman from the conservative wing of the Romanian Orthodox Church, has rejected requests to change the baptismal tradition. “There is no way to change the ritual,” said Archbishop Petrescu. “This faith cannon will be available for a thousand years. That’s why we won’t change. We won’t be intimidated. “The archbishop also told Antena3 television that he prefers to baptize babies in cold water because it appears to“ sharpen ”their spirituality and is good for their health.