Vatican City

Jailed youths in pope's foot-washing from various countries

Another departure from tradition in Maundy Thursday Mass

Jailed youths in pope's foot-washing from various countries

Vatican City, March 26 - The young inmates who will have their feet washed by Pope Francis during his first Maundy Thursday Mass this week will be "of various nationalities and religions," the Vatican said Tuesday. The ceremony - a break from the tradition in which popes washed the feet of 12 priests - will be "extremely simple" at the "express wishes of the Holy Father", the Vatican said. Rome's Casal del Marmo juvenile detention center has 46 inmates, 35 boys and 11 girls. There are eight Italians and 38 foreigners, mostly North Africans and Eastern Europeans, the Vatican said. The youths will give the pope a wooden cross and a wooden 'prie-dieu' or kneeling stool which they made in their workshop, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said. The pope will give them Easter eggs and the Italian Easter cake called 'colomba' because it is shaped like a dove, Lombardi said. The Vatican announced the Maundy Thursday ceremony last week, recalling that "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". 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. Popes traditionally reinterpret the act with 12 priests representing the Apostles, and the Last Supper mass traditionally takes place inside the church of St John Lateran, a former papal palace. Francis has yet to formally take possession of it since March 13 when he succeeded Benedict XVI, the first pope to abdicate in 600 years. Benedict visited Casal del Marmo six years ago and said mass there. Other celebrations during Holy Week, which began two days ago 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 prison is in keeping with the themes of humility and simplicity struck early on in Francis' 13-day-old papacy. "If the ministry of the Bishop of Rome also implies power," said Francis in his inaugural mass a week ago, "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 was lauded 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 new take on the foot-washing 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 pope-mobile and embracing a disabled person on the morning of his inauguration last 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' 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. "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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