Renewing Easter ritual, pope washes young inmates' feet

'Don't let your hope be stolen away' Francis tells juveniles

Renewing Easter ritual, pope washes young inmates' feet

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, March 28 - Bolstering his growing reputation for humility, Pope Francis put a new twist on a papal Easter ritual Thursday by washing the feet of 12 juvenile offenders in a Rome detention centre, instead of the 12 priests who till now represented the apostles at the Last Supper. "Don't let your hope be stolen away," Francis told the young people. The selected inmates of the Casal del Marmo borstal were two young women, an Italian Catholic and a Muslim ethnic Serb born in Rome, and 10 young men from Italy, North Africa and Eastern Europe. Kneeling before the group, the pope called the act "a caress from Jesus. "Jesus came exactly for this reason, to serve, to help us. "We must help one another, that's what Jesus taught us and what I am doing, it's my duty, which comes from my heart, I love doing it. "Those who are higher up must be at the service of others. This is a symbol and a sign: washing your feet means I am at your service". All 46 inmates in the Casal del Marmo borstal sang traditional hymns to the accompaniment of a guitar at the Argentinian pope's first Maundy Thursday Mass. The ceremony was "extremely simple", the Vatican said, at the "express wishes of the Holy Father". The towel used by the pope in the ritual was made over the course of several months by teenagers with personal or family problems housed at a shelter near the northern Italian city of Belluno. Made up of 720 different kinds of thread from various parts of the Holy Land and including net filaments from Lake Tiberias fishermen, it was hand-woven and intended to "reconstruct in fabric Jesus' travels 2,000 years ago," officials said. The Mass at Casal del Marmo was attended by the facility's 35 boys and 11 girls: eight Italians and 38 foreigners, mostly North Africans and Eastern Europeans. The youths gave the pope a wooden cross and a wooden 'prie-dieu' or kneeling stool which they made in their workshop. The pope gave them Easter eggs and the Italian Easter cake called 'colomba' because it is shaped like a dove. The ritual was followed by a "convivial" meeting between the pope and the inmates. "The choice of Casal Del Marmo came from the heart," Francis said. The pope "kissed and embraced all the youngsters," said Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi. Announcing the Maundy Thursday ceremony, the Vatican recalled 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 five 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 10 days 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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