Vatican City

Pope to wash juvenile inmates' feet at Maundy Thursday mass

'Serving the weakest' as discourse shifts to future of Church

Pope to wash juvenile inmates' feet at Maundy Thursday mass

(By Christopher Livesay) Vatican City, March 21 - Pope Francis will celebrate his first Maundy Thursday next week by washing inmates' feet at a mass inside Rome's Casal del Marmo juvenile detention center, the Vatican announced Thursday. Also known as Holy Thursday, the pre-Easter feast day celebrates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with his Apostles. According to the Gospel of St John, Jesus used the occasion to give the commandment to "love one another as I have loved you" and washed the feet of the 12 Apostles. The Vatican said Francis will reinterpret the act with 12 juvenile inmates on March 28. "In his ministry as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) used to celebrate this mass in a prison or hospital or home for the poor," said the Vatican in a statement. With the mass inside Casal del Marmo, "Pope Francis will continue the tradition, which should be characterized by a context of simplicity". Traditionally the Last Supper mass takes place inside the church of St. John Lateran, a former papal palace, but Francis has yet to formally take possession of it since last week when he succeeded Benedict XVI, the first pope to abdicate in 600 years. Benedict visited the same juvenile detention facility six years ago and celebrated mass there inside the chapel of the Merciful Father. Other celebrations during Holy Week, which begins this weekend on Palm Sunday, are scheduled to take place in their traditional settings, according to the Vatican Office of Liturgical Celebrations. The decision to celebrate such an important Holy Week mass inside a juvenile hall is in keeping with the themes of humility and simplicity struck early on in his week-old papacy. "If the ministry of the Bishop of Rome also implies power," said Francis in his inaugural mass Tuesday, "let us never forget that real power is in serving others, and that even the pope, in order to exercise power, must always enter into that service, which has its shining summit on the cross. "He must welcome with warmth and tenderness all of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, and the smallest. "Those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in jail". The decision has not gone unnoticed by the director of the detention center, Liana Giambartolomei. "Pope Francis has chosen a place of pain, but also of hope and conversion," she said. The announcement Thursday is the latest sign of a pope who seems evermore eager to mix with the people, from blessing patients at a Rome hospital two days after his election, to descending from his popemobile and embracing a disabled person on the morning of his inauguration Tuesday, all with a warmth and ease that bears more in common with the beloved Pope John XXIII than the retired Benedict. Despite showing virtually no difference from Benedict on social and doctrinal issues, Francis's charm has been enough to shift the discourse from Vatican scandal and dysfunction to the possibility of renewal in the Catholic Church. Before Francis, "when we spoke of the Church, we did so without a smile," said Enzo Bianchi, the head of Italy's Bose monastic movement, in Italian daily La Stampa on Sunday. "Now once again, we can look at the Church with sympathy and restore trust in an institution that appeared to many to be far-removed and hardly trustworthy".

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