‘We Are Brothers’: Pope Francis Washes Feet of Migrants
www.usatoday.com | March 24, 2016
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of 12 immigrants during Holy Thursday celebrations, hoping to bring together different religions and cultures in a gesture that comes two days after the Brussels attacks stirred anti-Islam attitudes.
“All of us together: Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals. But all brothers and children of the same God,” the pontiff said at a Mass at a migrant reception center that houses nearly 900 asylum-seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome. “We want to live together in peace.”
Francis called the assault on the Belgium capital an “act of war, of destruction … by people who do not want to live in peace.”
The highly symbolic Easter ritual of washing the feet commemorates the rite that Jesus practiced with his Apostles before his Crucifixion. Francis’ repeated inclusion of women — as well as non-Catholics — has prompted much debate.
This year, eight men and four women were involved in the foot-washing. Three were Muslim, three were Coptic Christian women from Eritrea and one was Hindu.
“We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace,” Francis said before washing and kissing the feet of the migrants, some of whom were moved to tears.
In a morning Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis sought to highlight the need for mercy, the theme of the 2016 Jubilee Year he launched in December. “Mercy restores everything; it restores dignity to each person,” he said.
Speaking directly to thousands of priests at the earlier Mass, Francis urged them to stay close to the poor and marginalized.
“As priests we identify with people who are excluded,” he said. “We remind ourselves that there are countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them.”
Francis warned that priests “are often blind” to those who are suffering, sometimes “because of an excess of complicated theology” or “because of an excessive ‘bubbly’ spirituality, a ‘light’ spirituality.”
“We feel ourselves also trapped, not so much by insurmountable stone walls or steel enclosures that affect many peoples, but rather by a digital, virtual worldliness that is opened and closed by a simple click,” he said. “We are oppressed, not by threats and pressures, like so many poor people, but by the allure of a thousand commercial advertisements which we cannot shrug off.”
During the service, known as the Chrism Mass, the pope blessed sacred oils that will be used during the Easter vigil and other liturgical celebrations throughout the year.
Security has been stepped up across Italy and extra police will be on duty at the Vatican and other popular tourist sites this weekend as Europe continues to reel from the deadly bomb attacks in Belgium that killed at least 31 people and injured hundreds.
The papal foot-washing ritual Thursday not only sent a signal open openness to refugees despite the violence, but also to women in the church. Traditionally, the foot-washing by the pope — or any bishop or priest — was performed on men.
Soon after his election in 2013, the pope shocked conservatives by using the occasion to wash the feet of women, Muslims and Orthodox Christians at a prison in Rome. In January, Francis formally changed the regulations to explicitly allow women and girls to participate.
Earlier this week, Vatican official Archbishop Rino Fisichella said the pope’s choice of refugees was significant particularly due to the migration crisis engulfing Europe. “We can understand the symbolic value intended by Francis,” Fisichella wrote in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
“His actions mean to tell us that it is important to pay due attention to the weakest in this historic moment; that we are all called to restore their dignity without resorting to subterfuge.
“By washing the feet of refugees, Francis implores respect for each one of them,” Fisichella said.