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Pope Francis alters foot-washing ceremony with a decree

Pope Francis washes a prisoner's feet at Rebibbia prison in Rome, during Holy Thursday, April 2, 2015.

Reuters/Osservatore Romano

ROME -- Pope Francis on Thursday issued a decree changing how the Holy Thursday foot-washing ceremony will be celebrated around the world.

The decree states that those chosen to have their feet washed by the priest or bishop performing the ceremony must include women.

The custom has long been for the subjects to be 12 men. With his decree, Francis has said they should be representatives of the community: meaning men and women, young and old, healthy and sick, clergy and laity.

Pope Francis has already broken with convention himself -- first in 2013, his first Holy Thursday as pontiff -- washing the feet of female prisoners.

However, across the world, most of the bishops or priests performing the foot-washing rite since then have washed the feet of men -- usually 12 other priests.

The foot-washing ceremony takes place on the Thursday before Easter in Christian tradition, and is meant to re-create Jesus Christ's washing the feet of the 12 disciples, highlighting his humility and love for all.

Filed by CBS Radio News correspondent Anna Matranga.