On Maundy Thursday, 2013, Pope Francis continued the Papal tradition of humbling himself by washing the feet of others, as Christ had done for his disciples. But, wrote the The Telegraph, "never before had a pontiff washed the feet of a woman."
- March 28, 2013
While popes have for centuries washed the feet of the faithful on the day before Good Friday, that fact that Francis washed the feet of one of the female inmates at the prison in Rome, a Serbian Muslim, was also remarked on as a break with tradition.
Francis led a Mass with a mixed group of young offenders at the Casal del Marmo prison outside of Rome.
“There is no better way to show his service for the smallest, for the least fortunate,” said Gaetano Greco, a local chaplain.
Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates aged 14 to 21, among them the two women, the second of whom was an Italian Catholic. Mr Greco said he hoped the ritual would be “a positive sign in their lives.”
Catholic traditionalists are likely to be riled by the inclusion of women in the ceremony because of the belief that all of Jesus’ disciples were male.
The Pontiff, who had largely disregarded protocol since his election, urged his fellow clerics before the ceremony to prioritise the poor.
“We need to go out to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters,” he said at a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica.
“It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord.”
The 76-year-old has already made a name for himself as a champion of the disadvantaged. In his homeland of Argentina he was known for his strong social advocacy, working in slums, and shunning the lavish lifestyle adopted by some senior clerics. He lived in a small flat near the cathedral, flew to the Rome conclave in economy class, and chose to travel with his fellow Cardinals by minibus rather than in the Papal limousine.
As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he had washed and kissed the feet of women in past ceremonies in Argentinian jails, hospitals and old people's homes, including pregnant mothers and AIDS patients.
Before performing the traditional feet washing, in his first general audience on Wednesday, Francis called on the world’s Catholics to reach out to “lost sheep” over the coming days.
“Holy Week challenges us to step outside ourselves so as to attend to the needs of others: those who long for a sympathetic ear, those in need of comfort or help,” Francis told thousands of faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square.
IMAGE credit: Pope Francis washes the foot of a prison inmate during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)