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Pope Francis washes the feet of 12 women in a Rome prison from his wheelchair

Pope Francis washes the feet of 12 women in a Rome prison from his wheelchair

Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of 12 female prisoners in a Rome prison during a Holy Thursday ritual meant to assert his authority. A call to service and humility.

Francis, 87, performed the ritual from his wheelchair, after recent illnesses exacerbated his motor problems. The place of Rebibbia's prison was equipped to suit his needs: the women sat on benches on a raised platform, enabling the Pope to move along the line easily from his wheelchair without having to strain himself.

Many of the women cried as Francis washed their feet, gently pouring water over one bare foot and patting it dry with a small towel. He finished this gesture by kissing each foot, often looking at the woman smiling.

The foot washing ceremony on Holy Thursday is a distinctive feature of every Holy Week and is reminiscent of Jesus washing the feet of his twelve apostles at their last supper together before his crucifixion.

Francis He revolutionized Vatican ritual by insisting, since his first Holy Thursday as pope in 2013, that women and followers of other faiths be included among the 12. Previously, popes performed rituals only for Catholic men in Rome's cathedral.

In this photo made available by Vatican media, Pope Francis washes and kisses the feet of 12 female prisoners at the Rebibbia prison on the outskirts of Rome on Holy Thursday, March 28, 2024, a ritual meant to underscore his call to service and humility.

Vatican Media/AP


Every year, Francis travels to a prison, refugee center or youth detention center to emphasize his belief that the priest's vocation is to serve particularly marginalized people. In his short, spontaneous sermon, Francis explained the meaning of this gesture.

“Jesus insults himself,” Francis said. He added: “With this gesture, he makes us understand what he said: I am not here to be served, but to serve.”

“He teaches us the path of service,” Francis said.

Francis appeared in good condition in prison, even after presiding over a long Mass earlier in the day in St. Peter's Basilica. During the morning Mass, he preached a long sermon with a set of marching orders for priests based in Rome at the start of the busy few days leading up to Easter.

Francis was obstructed by A A long bout of respiratory problems this winter In recent weeks, he asked one of his aides to read his statements out loud to spare him stress. On Palm Sunday, he skipped his sermon entirely.

But Francis appeared energized after his visit to Rebibbia prison, where he received a basket of vegetables grown in the prison garden as well as two ritual shawls embroidered by inmates.

Pope Francis kisses a prisoner's foot. The foot washing ceremony on Holy Thursday is a distinctive feature of every Holy Week and is reminiscent of Jesus washing the feet of his twelve apostles at their last supper together before his crucifixion.

Vatican Media/AP


For his part, Francis dedicated a framed picture of the Virgin Mary that had been given to him, saying that as soon as he received it he thought of the women in Rebibbia. He also gave a large chocolate Easter egg to the son of one of the prisoners.

Even with the events of Holy Thursday wrapped up, Francis has a busy few days ahead of him that will test his endurance.

On Friday night, he is scheduled to travel to the Colosseum to participate in the Stations of the Cross procession, which reenacts the story of the crucifixion of Christ. On Saturday, he will lead the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, followed a few hours later Easter Mass In the square and his big noon speech Urbi et Orbi (For the City and the World) which highlighted global conflicts and disasters affecting humanity.

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