Pope Francis has urged a group of young offenders to be at the service of one another, reminding them that Jesus came to serve and help mankind.
The newly elected Argentine pontiff made the comments at the Casa del Marmo youth detention center just outside Rome this evening.
The Pope had traveled to the prison to celebrate Mass of the Lord’s Supper for 50 young offenders including 11 girls as well as staff, volunteers, and dignitaries.
The Vatican said the Pope “washed the feet of 12 young guests of the penal institute, of different nationalities and religious confessions, among them two girls.”
The Mass was a break with papal tradition which is normally celebrated in the basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.
The Mass’s traditional foot-washing ceremony, carried out in churches throughout the world, is a sign of love and service, recalling Jesus’ washing of the apostles' feet during the Last Supper before he was led to his crucifixion.
In his unscripted homily, Pope Francis explained that the foot washing is important for Jesus, “because among us the one who is highest up must be at the service of others.”
“This is a symbol, it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service,” he said. “And we are too, among each other, but we don’t have to wash each other’s feet each day. So what does this mean? That we have to help each other.”
“Sometimes I would get angry with one someone, but we must let it go and if they ask a favor of you, do it!” the Pope said.
He continued: “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service. But it is a duty that comes from my heart and a duty I love. I love doing it because this is what the Lord has taught me. But you too must help us and help each other, always. And thus in helping each other we will do good for each other.”
In closing, the Pope said the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet should prompt each person to think: “Am I really willing to help others? Just think of that. Think that this sign is Christ’s caress, because Jesus came just for this, to serve us, to help us.”
This Mass on Holy Thursday is a significant event in the Church’s calendar, marking the beginning of the Easter Triduum — the three holy days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.
As Cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis would celebrate Mass of the Lord’s Supper in prisons or hospices, and sometimes wash the feet of girls. This is despite Church law insisting that only men should have their feet washed as it is supposed to recall the apostles who were all male.
Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in the Casa del Marmo during Lent in 2007.
Since his election, Pope Francis has sought to encourage the Church to look outwards more, and reminded its members of its special role in caring for the poor and marginalized.
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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