Sat. Apr 13th, 2024
alert-–-pope-francis-visits-women’s-prison-in-rome-to-wash-the-feet-of-12-inmates-from-his-wheelchair-to-mark-maundy-thursdayAlert – Pope Francis visits women’s prison in Rome to wash the feet of 12 inmates from his wheelchair to mark Maundy Thursday

Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 incarcerated women from his wheelchair to mark Maundy Thursday. 

The 87-year-old pontiff, who often pleads for compassion to prisoners, visited the Rebibbia women’s prison in the northeastern outskirts of Rome, where he performed the same rite in 2015.

Thursday, however, was the first time the Argentinian Jesuit had dedicated his annual ritual during Holy Week solely to women.

Seated in a wheelchair, the pope washed the feet of each of the prisoners, some of them in tears, before drying them off with a towel and kissing them.

‘We all have small failures, big failures,’ said the pope in an impromptu homily during a mass held in the courtyard of the prison that holds some 370 women.

‘But the Lord is always waiting for us, with open arms, and he never tires of forgiving,’ he added.

Pope Francis kisses the feet of an inmate of the female section of Rebibbia Prison during a Holy Thursday ritual

Pope Francis kisses the feet of an inmate of the female section of Rebibbia Prison during a Holy Thursday ritual

Pope Francis performing the

Pope Francis performing the “Washing of the Feet” of inmates during a private visit of the prison

Pope Francis smiles as he leaves after visiting the female section at Rebibbia prison

Pope Francis smiles as he leaves after visiting the female section at Rebibbia prison

The washing of feet is ‘a gesture that draws our attention to the vocation of service,’ said Francis, who as a priest in Buenos Aires had already begun visiting prisoners.

READ MORE: King Charles says it is time for nation to extend the hand of friendship ‘especially in a time of need’ in a personal Easter message in the wake of cancer diagnoses for him and Princess of Wales 

A few minutes earlier, the pontiff was all smiles as he shook hands with the inmates.

In England, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also performed the washing of feet at St Paul’s Church in Maidstone, Kent. 

Last month, the pope caught a flu that caused him to cancel some public meetings. During his subsequent recovery, he has on several occasions asked others to read his speeches.

In the Christian tradition, Holy Thursday commemorates the day when Christ washed the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper.

It is a highlight of Holy Week, which commemorates Christ’s final days before his resurrection on Easter.

Since becoming pope in 2013, the head of the Catholic Church has often visited prisons and refugee centres, including last year on Holy Thursday when he visited a juvenile detention centre and washed the feet of 12 young men.

On Good Friday, he is due to preside over the ‘Way of the Cross’ prayer service at Rome’s Coliseum, which he was unable to attend last year as he recovered from a bronchial infection.

Pope Francis looked well as he began four intense days of events leading to Easter, and renewed his own ordination vow.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, performs the Washing of the Feet ceremony during the Sung Eucharist, The Liturgy of Maundy Thursday service at St Paul's Church, Maidstone

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, performs the Washing of the Feet ceremony during the Sung Eucharist, The Liturgy of Maundy Thursday service at St Paul’s Church, Maidstone

The Archbishop performs the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday - the day before Good Friday

The Archbishop performs the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday – the day before Good Friday

Francis, who recently curtailed his speaking engagements because of fatigue related to bouts of bronchitis and influenza, read a long homily during a Holy Thursday ‘Mass of the Chrism’ in St Peter’s Basilica.

He also greeted two bereaved fathers whose story was told in a 2020 novel by Irish author Colum McCann.

The Pope noted that there were two people in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall – ‘two fathers’ – one a Palestinian, the other an Israeli.

Bassam Aramin’s daughter Abir was killed in 2007 by an Israeli soldier as she left school; Rami Elhanan’s daughter Smadar was killed in 1997 in an attack in Jerusalem.

The two men’s story of friendship was told in the novel ‘Apeirogon’ by Colum McCann, who met with Pope Francis during an audience with artists on June 23, 2023.

‘Let us think of the beautiful witness of these two people who have suffered the war in the Holy Land in the loss of their daughters,’ the pope said.

During the service, Francis urged priests to be compassionate, admit when they have ‘strayed from the path of holiness’ and avoid dishonesty and hypocrisy.

He will preside at an Easter Vigil service tomorrow and then, on Easter Sunday, will read his twice-annual ‘Urbi et Orbi’ message and blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter’s to tens of thousands of people in the square below

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