Catholic Church and other christian denominations celebrated foot-washing yesterday – a religious rite often performed on Holy Thursday before Easter.
The rite saw different priests select various fractions of the church’s leaders to wash their feet. But Pope Francis decided to take the washing of feet to an entirely touching level.
The pontiff chose rather to visit a refugee centre to wash and kiss the feet of Muslim, Orthodox, Hindu and Catholic refugees — a gesture of welcome at a time when anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment has grown rapidly following the recent horrific attack in Brussels and Paris.
In a refugee camp located in Castelnuovo di Porto, outside Rome, the pope washed and kissed the feet of the refugees, citing a good example of the love and humility which Jesus had taught.
On arrival to the camp, Francis was welcomed with a banner reading “Welcome” in several languages. He then processed down a provisional passage to celebrate the outdoor Mass which numerous people out of the 892 people seeking asylum attended.
Some other fraction of the refugees, gathered about close by and captured the event in a video using their smartphones.
The pope who has in so many instances, spoken against migrant issues including his trip Mexico took a time out to practice what he has been preaching about migrants.
Pope also washed the feet of women and children.
Before now, the rule of the Church had long called for only men to participate in the traditional rite, and in the past popes and many priests performed it on 12 Catholic men – recalling Jesus’ 12 apostles. The rule further cemented the practice of an all-male priesthood.
However after years of outright infringement of the rules, Pope Francis in January made changes to the rule, expressively giving women and girls around the world the chance to participate.
According to the Vatican, it chose four women and eight men and women consisted of, an Italian and three Eritrean Coptic Christian migrants. The men include four Catholics from Nigeria, three Muslims from Mali, Syria and Pakistan, and a Hindu from India – something that way new to the church.
The new regulation states that anyone from the “people of God” could take part in the celebration.
Though the phrase “people of God” normally makes reference to everyone who is a baptised Christian, the new norm orders church leaders ( pastors included) to instruct “both the chosen faithful and others to take part in the rite consciously, actively and fruitfully”, opining that non-Catholics can participate in the rite as well.
The traditional Easter Week foot-washing ceremony, acts out the foot-washing ritual which Jesus performed on his apostles before being crucified.
It also represents a gesture of service and expresses the most solemn period of the Catholic Church’s Easter season.
The rite is backed by the Christian’s Bible in John 13:1-17 when Jesus performed this this act. Particularly, in verses 13:14–17, He instructs them:
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
The washing of feet was a radical act in the time of Jesus. It is no less radical in the modern era. Hence, Pope Francis’ decision to break the long-standing papal tradition of washing only priests’ and men’s feet, to include women and non-Christians in the symbolic ceremony.