Pope breaks convention by washing the feet of imprisoned showgirl
He has broken Vatican convention by washing the feet of Muslims and women, and Pope Francis has now clocked up a new first - cleansing the feet of a former television showgirl during an Easter ceremony.
During his Holy Thursday visit to a prison in Rome, the Jesuit Pope knelt down in front of 12 inmates - six men and six women - to wash, dry and kiss their feet.
One of them was a former starlet, Silvy Lubamba, who appeared on Italian television and in gossip magazines before falling from grace when she was jailed for fraud and using stolen credit cards.
The 42-year-old showgirl, who is of Congolese origin but has lived in Italy for years, was arrested in Rome last August and sentenced to three years and nine months behind bars.
Wearing blue jeans and a white shirt, she smiled at the 78-year-old pontiff as he knelt before her and washed her feet.
The Pope also washed the feet of a baby whose mother is incarcerated in the prison and was among the six women he encountered.
The pre-Easter ritual recalls the gesture that Jesus performed on his apostles before his crucifixion.
The Pope asked the inmates, some of whom were reduced to tears, to pray for him, saying that he too needed to be cleansed of "my filth".
Since being elected two years ago, the pontiff has radically reinterpreted the Holy Thursday foot-washing ceremony. According to Vatican rules, it should only be performed on men, a reflection of the fact that the apostles were all men.
But the Argentinian pontiff has washed the feet of women and Muslims, in a break with tradition that has caused disquiet among some conservatives.
He said the ceremony was an expression of Christ's openness to serving and loving all people, regardless of their sins. As he has for much of his papacy, the Pope showed a disregard for protocol and his own security, allowing prisoners to touch him as entered the prison chapel.