Today Pope Francis deviated from tradition and instead of washing the feet of twelve fellow priests as part of the annual Holy Thursday ritual, he washed the feet of twelve imprisoned youth. These individuals ranged in age from 14 to 21 and included two females as well as non-Catholics. Unheard of!
According to a Vatican report, Jorge Bergoglio often celebrated Mass in prisons and hospitals when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has washed and kissed the feet of drug addicts, AIDS patients, and other downtrodden individuals before, to convey to them a posture of service in keeping with Christ’s, a commitment to meeting their needs and a respect for their persons. But this is the first time that a pope has ever done so as part of the Holy Thursday Mass. Furthermore, it’s the first time that the Holy Thursday Mass was held outside St. Peter’s or St. John Lateran. (Rather, it was held on site at the Casal Del Marmo Youth Detention Centre on the outskirts of Rome.)
In a public address yesterday in St. Peter’s Square, the pope said that following Christ “means learning to come out of ourselves . . . in order to meet others, in order to go toward the edges of our existence, to take the first steps towards our brothers and sisters, especially those who are farthest from us, those who are forgotten, those who need understanding, consolation and assistance.”
By reaching out to these young people outside the clerical elite, including people of the female gender and the Muslim faith, Pope Francis has affirmed that Jesus’s love and sacrifice, which we commemorate tomorrow, is for all of humankind—and likewise his command for us to be givers and servants puts on the receiving end not just those within our own Christian circles, but more especially those without.
Watching the pope’s kisses on the news footage was so sweet to me. I pray for those twelve—and for the thirty-something others detained there this Easter. I pray that the pope’s actions will lead them, and us all, into a fuller understanding of the gospel.