Pope washes feet of young detainees in ritual

ROME Pope Francis washed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center in a Holy Thursday ritual that he celebrated for years as archbishop and is continuing now that he is pope. Two of the 12 were young women, an unusual choice given that the rite re-enacts Jesus' washing of the feet of his male disciples.

The Mass was held in the Casal del Marmo facility in Rome, where 46 young men and women currently are detained. Many of them are Gypsies or North African migrants, and the Vatican said the 12 selected for the rite weren't necessarily Catholic.

Because the inmates were mostly minors — the facility houses inmates aged 14-21 — the Vatican and Italian Justice Ministry limited media access inside. But Vatican Radio carried the Mass live, and Francis told the detainees that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service.

"If the Lord has washed his disciples' feet, you should do the same to one another," Francis said in his homily. "I have given you the example so that you may do the same."

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio would celebrate the ritual foot-washing in jails, hospitals or hospices — part of his ministry to the poorest and most marginalized of society. It's a message that he is continuing now that he is pope, saying he wants a church "for the poor."

Pope Francis kisses the foot of an inmate at the juvenile detention center of Casal del Marmo, Rome, on March 28, 2013.
Pope Francis kisses the foot of an inmate at the juvenile detention center of Casal del Marmo, Rome, on March 28, 2013.
AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano

Previous popes would carry out the foot-washing ritual on Holy Thursday in Rome's grand St. John Lateran basilica and the 12 people chosen for the ritual were priests to represent the 12 disciples.

That Francis would include women in this re-enactment is symbolically noteworthy given the Vatican's prohibition on female priests.


The full text of Pope Francis' four-minute homily at Rome's juvenile prison "Casal del Marmo":

"This is moving, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Peter understands nothing. He refuses but Jesus explains to him. Jesus, God did this, and He Himself explains it to the disciples.. 'Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do'.

It is the example set by Our Lord, it's important for Him to wash their feet, because among us the one who is highest up must be at the service of others. This is a symbol, it is a sign - washing your feet means I am at your service. And we are too, among each other, but we don't have to wash each other's feet each day. So what does this mean? That we have to help each other...sometimes I would get angry with one someone, but we must let it go and if they ask a favor of do it!

Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service. But it is a duty that comes from my heart and a duty I love. I love doing it because this is what the Lord has taught me. But you too must help us and help each other, always. And thus in helping each other we will do good for each other.

Now we will perform the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet and we must each one of us think, Am I really willing to help others? Just think of that. Think that this sign is Christ's caress, because Jesus came just for this, to serve us, to help us".

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