On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 male and female prisoners from Rebibbia prison and a women’s detention center in Rome. His action came out of his want to be a “servant of society’s neediest.” He washed and kissed the prisoners’ feet in what has become a traditional service marking the day leading up to Easter, a tradition which began in Buenos Aires when the Pope went to poorer neighborhoods to hold the services for people who would not have otherwise been able to attend or be included.
This marks the third year that Pope Francis has led this particular service outside of the basilica and instead has gone “to people on the margins of society and including women,” reported Reuters, April 2. Holy Thursday services in the past had only included men and had been hosted at the Vatican or at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
“We have to learn to be on the side of the poor and not just indulge in rhetoric about the poor!” stresses Pope Francis in one of his sermons which has been compiled in his new book to be released on Easter Sunday. “Let us go out to meet them, look into their eyes, and listen to them.”
The ritual under Pope Francis is a controversial move which has made many conservative Catholics upset. According to the Associated Press, Pope Francis has essentially “revolutionized the Holy Thursday foot washing ceremony by performing it on women and non-Catholics and by travelling to detention centers and facilities for the sick.”
The pope also issued words of hope for the attendees of the ceremony and explained that the symbolic action of the ceremony meant that he would serve humbly in order to cleanse and purify. He even asked humbly to be cleansed and purified, himself.