independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Pope breaks with tradition to wash feet of female prisoners

Pope Francis kisses the foot of an inmate at a juvenile detention centre

Pope Francis continued his gleeful abandonment of tradition yesterday by washing the feet of two women prisoners – one a Muslim – in an unprecedented twist on the tradition of Holy Thursday.

While popes have for centuries washed the feet of the faithful on the day before Good Friday, never before had a pontiff washed the feet of a woman.

That one of the female inmates at the Casal del Marmo prison on the outskirts of Rome was a Serbian Muslim was also a break with tradition.

"There is no better way to show his service for the smallest, for the least fortunate," said Gaetano Greco, a local prison chaplain.

Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates aged 14 to 21, among them the two women, the second of whom was an Italian Catholic.

"I do this with all my heart because it is my duty as a priest, as a bishop," the Pope said.

"I have to be at your service. I love doing it because this is what the Lord has taught me."

The 76-year-old Pope has already made a name for himself as a champion of the disadvantaged. As the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he washed and kissed the feet of women in jails, hospitals and old people's homes, including pregnant mothers and AIDS patients.

Earlier in the day, the Pontiff had urged priests to make the poor their priority.

"We need to go out to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters," he said at a Mass in St Peter's.

"It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord."

In his first general audience on Wednesday, the Pope had called on the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to reach out to "lost sheep" over the coming days.

"Holy Week challenges us to step outside ourselves so as to attend to the needs of others: those who long for a sympathetic ear, those in need of comfort or help," he told thousands of faithful gathered in St Peter's Square.

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