ROME — Pope Francis washed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center in a Holy Thursday ritual that he celebrated for years as archbishop and is continuing now that he is pope. Two of the 12 were young women, an unusual choice given that the rite re-enacts Jesus' washing of the feet of his male disciples.
The Mass was held in the Casal del Marmo facility in Rome, where 46 young men and women currently are detained. Many of them are Gypsies or North African migrants, and the Vatican said the 12 selected for the rite weren't necessarily Catholic.
Because the inmates were mostly minors — the facility houses inmates aged 14-21 — the Vatican and Italian Justice Ministry limited media access inside. But Vatican Radio carried the Mass live, and Francis told the detainees that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service.
"If the Lord has washed his disciples' feet, you should do the same to one another," Francis said in his homily. "I have given you the example so that you may do the same."
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio would celebrate the ritual foot-washing in jails, hospitals or hospices — part of his ministry to the poorest and most marginalized of society. It's a message that he is continuing now that he is pope, saying he wants a church "for the poor."
Previous popes would carry out the foot-washing ritual on Holy Thursday in Rome's grand St. John Lateran basilica and the 12 people chosen for the ritual were priests to represent the 12 disciples.
That Francis would include women in this re-enactment is symbolically noteworthy given the Vatican's prohibition on female priests.