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Pope washes feet of young detainees in ritual

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:59 p.m. HST, Mar 28, 2013

ROME >> Pope Francis washed and kissed 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, a remarkable choice given that the church's current liturgical law says only men should participate.

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 12 selected for the foot-washing rite included Orthodox and Muslim detainees, news reports said.

Because the inmates were mostly minors — the facility houses inmates aged 14-to-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.

"This is a symbol, it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service," Francis told the youngsters. "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."

Later, the Vatican released a limited video of the ritual, showing Francis washing black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos. Kneeling on the stone floor as the 12 youngsters sat above him, the 76-year-old Francis poured water from a silver chalice over each foot, dried it with a simple cotton towel and then bent over to kiss each one.

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."

Previous popes would carry out the foot-washing ritual on Holy Thursday in Rome's grand St. John Lateran basilica. The 12 people chosen for the ritual would always be priests to represent Christ's 12 apostles.

That Francis would include women in this re-enactment is remarkable given current liturgical rules that restrict the ritual to men.

Canon lawyer Edward Peters, who is an adviser to the Holy See's top court, noted in a blog that the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1988 said in a letter to bishops that "The washing of the feet of chosen men ... represents the service and charity of Christ who came 'not to be served, but to serve.'"

Peters noted that bishops over the years have successfully petitioned Rome for an exemption to allow women to participate, but that the law on the issue is clear.

"By disregarding his own law in this matter, Francis violates, of course, no divine directive," Peters wrote Thursday. "What he does do, I fear, is set a questionable example."

Others welcomed the example he set.

"The pope's washing the feet of women is hugely significant because including women in this part of the Holy Thursday Mass has been frowned on — and even banned — in some dioceses," said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of "The Jesuit Guide."

"It shows the all-embracing love of Christ, who ministered to all he met: man or woman, slave or free, Jew or Gentile," he said.

After the Mass, Francis greeted each of the inmates and gave each one an Easter egg.

"Don't lose hope," he said. "Understand? With hope you can always go on."

One of the inmates then asked him why he had come to visit them. Francis said it was to "help me to be humble, as a bishop should be." He said he wanted to come "from my heart. Things from the heart don't have an explanation," he said.

Italian Justice Minister Paola Severino, who has made easing Italy's woefully overcrowded prisons a priority, attended the Mass.

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Mythman wrote:
Can anyone verify the rumor I heard that KSBE trustees are trying to round up some native Hawaiian of the blood homeless folks to wash their feet in the same manner down at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center? That they commissioned the OHA to identify these folks and round them up, etc?
on March 28,2013 | 11:31AM
cojef wrote:
The humility of this Pope is amazing. He is setting a precedence no other Pope has done, administering to the poor and also 2 women.
on March 28,2013 | 11:37AM
serious wrote:
cojef, I agree, I believe, as one Cardinal said, we have a winner.
on March 28,2013 | 01:57PM
HLOEWEN wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on March 28,2013 | 01:59PM
Mythman wrote:
money cannot buy happiness
on March 28,2013 | 02:33PM
AJSay wrote:
Lucky we live in America where you have the right to speak your peace. It is sad though that you are obviously very unhappy and jaded in your views. Of course the world seems topsy turvsy and there are so much that one thinks he sees. But unless you are doing your part, do you not find it interesting to keep throwing the stones at the Catholics? I am not saying anything about who is right or wrong, but.... Have a nice day and God Bless!
on March 28,2013 | 03:04PM
ellinaskyrt wrote:
Where'd you get the idea that Protestants are an endangered species? Protestants make the largest religious group in the USA, and includes Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, and even Youth for Christ and New Hope, which are from the evangelical branch of Protestantism.
on March 28,2013 | 04:20PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
The world would be much better off if he simply told the priests to distribute free condoms. The crushing burden of poverty derives from overpopulation.
on March 28,2013 | 05:30PM
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