“The Pope washing the feet of women is hugely significant”

Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention centre in a Holy Thursday ritual. Two of the 12 were young women, a remarkable choice given that the Church’s liturgical law says only men should participate.

The Mass was held in the Casal del Marmo facility in Rome, where 46 young men and women are detained. The 12 included Orthodox and Muslim detainees, reports said.

Later, the Vatican released a limited video of the ritual, showing Pope Francis washing black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos.

Previous Popes would carry out the ritual on Holy Thursday in Rome’s grand St. John Lateran basilica. The 12 people chosen would always be priests to represent the 12 apostles, whose feet Jesus washed on the eve of his crucifixion.

Canon lawyer Edward Peters, who is an adviser to the Holy See’s top court, noted in a blog that the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1988 said in a letter to bishops that “The washing of the feet of chosen men ... represents the service and charity of Christ who came ‘not to be served, but to serve.’”

Mr. Peters noted that bishops over the years have successfully petitioned Rome for an exemption to allow women to participate, but that the law on the issue is clear.

“By disregarding his own law in this matter, Francis violates, of course, no divine directive,” Mr. Peters wrote Thursday. “What he does do, I fear, is set a questionable example.”

Others welcomed the example he set.

“The Pope’s washing the feet of women is hugely significant because including women in this part of the Holy Thursday Mass has been frowned on and even banned in some dioceses,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of The Jesuit Guide.

“It shows the all-embracing love of Christ, who ministered to all he met — man or woman, slave or free, Jew or Gentile,” he said.

After the Mass, Pope Francis greeted each of the inmates and gave each one an Easter egg.

“Don’t lose hope,” he said. “Understand? With hope you can always go on.”

Keywords: VaticanPope Francis

More In: World | International