In the middle of the professional portrait sessions and the great pile of gifts; amidst the toasts from relatives who flew in from Europe and a lavish reception flowing with good food and fine drink; at the heart of the grand pageantry of Roman Catholicism tinged in Italian lay Domenico Marie Cricchio Jr.
"Little Mimmo" received the Sacrament of Baptism yesterday.
Born July 14, he is the first child of Domenico "Mimmo" Cricchio Sr., 58, a Little Italy chef and restaurateur, and his wife, the former Mary Ann Burlanski, a 1982 graduate of Loyola College.
The infant was the guest of honor yesterday at a wonderful party crowded with friends and family, a long day of celebration that began with photo sessions at his parents' urban mansion next to the family business on High Street in Little Italy, followed by the ceremony at the neighborhood parish around the corner, and ending with a long catered affair of pasta primavera and prime rib at the Harbor Court Hotel.
But the party was not the point.
"A baby is born into a sinful situation and needs God's help in the struggle against evil," explained the Rev. Oreste Pandola, who presided over the ceremony at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church onSouth Exeter Street.
"The sacrament takes away original sin -- the sin of the world -- but the sacrament is not magic," the priest said. "Unless the baby sees the example, especially from the parents, it will never grow. You never want to reduce the sacrament to magic. Sometimes people just make it a party and don't realize the seriousness involved."
Not so, apparently, with the Cricchios, whose home features an oil painting of the Last Supper on the dining room ceiling, a certificate from Pope John Paul II promising "a pledge of heavenly favors," and a stairway alcove featuring a statue of the Blessed Mother.
"The most important thing about today is that my son is being welcomed into the Catholic Church," said Mrs. Cricchio. "My husband is Catholic and I'm Catholic and we want to raise our child to believe in God," she said. "This baptism will take away the original sin of Adam and Eve."
So important to Mr. and Mrs. Cricchio was the removal of such sin from their beloved Mimmo that until yesterday the child had never left its home since being born 2 1/2 months ago.
"God forbid, should the baby die, I'm sure a merciful God has a place where babies go if they're not baptized," Mrs. Cricchio said. "We'll rest a lot easier knowing that he's baptized now. . . . But just like a marriage, this is just a ceremony. It's what happens after today that counts."
Franciscan seminarian Santo Cricchio, the child's first cousin, who will be ordained as a priest in two weeks at St. Casimer's Roman Catholic Church in Canton, performed the ceremony yesterday while Father Pandola stood by and explained the ritual to the guests and worshipers at St. Leo's.
Standing with Mr. and Mrs. Cricchio at the baptismal font were the child's godparents, Jerry Apicella and Sandy Paetow, close friends of the family. According to the sacrament, it is their charge to help raise the baby in the faith and to assume all spiritual responsibility if anything should happen to the parents.
Mr. Apicella said he felt it his responsibility to be "a good role model" for the baby. "The priest wanted to make sure we understood our responsibilities to bring him up as a good Catholic."
Ms. Paetow said she intended to live out that responsibility by spending time with the baby as he grew up.
MA "I think it was important to choose godparents who would be a
part of the family in the future," she said. "Time well spent is my goal with this child. He'll have enough presents coming from this family, and a child doesn't understand talk, he'll understand how we act, what we do."
On the altar, looking down at the child and then out to the congregation, Deacon Santo Cricchio asked: "How can innocence have anything to do with sin? Little Mimmo was born in a world so crazy that sometimes we think sin is in the very air we breathe, but despite sin we breathe Christ and we create a new world until Jesus Christ comes again."
He then poured water over the child's forehead -- "for in the water of Jordan [God's] son Jesus was baptized" -- and claimed the infant.
"I baptize you," he said, "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit . . . Amen."