FRANCIS on the periphery, by Maria Fischer with content from Vatican Radio and Aleteia •
The washing of feet on Holy Thursday, calling to mind Jesus, reminds us that “God loves us to the ends of the earth” despite our sinfulness. Pope Francis reminded us of this during the Mass of the Last Supper, which he celebrated at Paliano prison. It is Italy’s only prison for “collaborators of justice”, former mafia members who turn state witness to testify against their former associates and require protection. In 2013, a few days after being appointed pope, Francis surprised everyone by celebrating the Mass of the Last Supper outside the Vatican at the Casal de Marmo children’s penitentiary. In the years that followed, he continued to celebrate this Mass outside of the Vatican: In 2014 he went to the Don Gnocci Foundation, a Marian centre for underprivileged people, where he washed the feet of disabled people and those who cannot take care of themselves. In 2015, he visited the Rebibbia prison in Rome. The parishioners of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires are not surprised by these gestures, because their Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio always celebrated Holy Thursday on the periphery…
It reminds me of the countless, bear hugs received each time I visited the Tuparenda Children’s Penitentiary with Fr. Pedro Kühlcke. Never in my life have I received so many hugs in such a short period of time, and rarely were they so warm. Each time I left with a joyful tiredness, from all the love given and received. This is the joy of the gospel that becomes an embrace. Pure joy.
Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve prisoners. These included three women and a Muslim man who will be baptised in June, an Argentinean man and an Albanian man, while the rest were Italian. Among them, two are serving life sentences and the others will complete their sentences between 2019 and 2073.
Addressing the 70 prisoners and prison personnel, the Bishop of Rome showed how, like Jesus teaches us, the Pope is the first who is called to “serve” and to “sow love.” And he urged the prisoners to help each other.
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (Jn 13.1).” In his homily Pope Francis reflected on the scripture passage that narrates the events of the Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples.
God loves us to the ends of the earth, in spite of our sins
The Lord knew he had been betrayed, that Judas would hand him over, but he loves “even to the end of the earth” and gives his life “for each one of us.”
“Love even to the ends of the earth. It is not easy because we are all sinners. We all have our limits, defects, so many things. We all know how to love, but we are not like God who loves without looking at the consequences, even to the ends of the earth. And he gives us the example, so that we can see this. He, who was the ‘leader,’ who was God, washes the feet of his disciples.”
Jesus came to earth to serve and the Pope should do the same
The Holy Father recalled that the washing of feet at lunch and dinner time was a custom in Jesus’ time because people’s feet became dusty. This task was normally done by the slaves, but Jesus turns this custom upside down. When Simon Peter did not want Jesus to do this, Jesus explained to him that “He came to earth to serve, to serve us, to make himself a slave for us, to give his life for us, to love us to the ends of the earth.”
“Today, in the streets, as I was arriving, the people greeted me: “Here comes the Pope, the head of the Church.” The head of the Church….Jesus is the head of the church. The pope is merely the image of Jesus, and I want to do the same as he did. In this ceremony, the priest washes the feet of the faithful. The role reverses: The one who seems to be the greatest must do the work of a slave, to sow love. To sow love among us.”
The washing of feet is not folklore; it is a sign of God’s love
He encouraged the prisoners to help one another, to serve their companions, “because this is love, this is like the washing of feet. It means being the servant of the other.” Pope Francis reminded them of the time the disciples were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, the most important. Jesus told them: “He who wants to be important must make himself the smallest and the servant of all.” And this is what God does with us: he is our “Servant” who serves us:
“All of us, who are poor, all of us! But He is great. He is good. And he loves us as we are. Therefore, during this ceremony, let us think about Jesus. This isn’t a folkloric ceremony. It is a gesture to remind us of what Jesus gave us. After this, he took bread and gave us his body; he took wine and gave us his blood. This is the love of God. Today, we think only of God’s love.”
— Ary Waldir Ramos (@Arywaldir) April 13, 2017
[Translation of tweet: Songs and a smile for everyone. Video of #PopeFrancis and his gesture at the Paliano Penitentiary, he washed the feet of 12 prisoners.]
Original: Spanish, April 13, 2017. Translation: Sarah-Leah Pimentel, Cape Town, South Africa. Translation of Holy Father’s homily from www.catholicnews.com.