On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis engaged in a ritual known as “Holy Thursday Mandatum” which involves the washing of the feet of 12 people. It is an Easter ritual meant to reflect the belief that Jesus washed the feet of his 12 disciples a short time before his crucifixion.
The deeply symbolic ritual was particularly profound this year as eleven of the twelve people whose feet Pope Francis washed and kissed were refugees; three Eritrean Coptic Christian migrants, four Catholics from Nigeria, three Muslims from Mali, Syria and Pakistan, and a Hindu man from India. Pope Francis started including women in this ritual in 2013.
This year he made a formal decree stating that women were allowed to participate in the foot washing ceremony. This has attracted controversy as many argue the 12 people whose feet the pope washes are meant to represent the 12 apostles of Jesus, all of whom were men.
“All of us together: Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals. But all brothers and children of the same God,” the Pope said. “We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace.”
The ceremony comes a matter of days after the attack on Brussels that left more than 30 dead and hundreds injured. Security has been increased all across Europe including Rome and the Vatican.
“His actions mean to tell us that it is important to pay due attention to the weakest in this historic moment; that we are all called to restore their dignity without resorting to subterfuge. By washing the feet of refugees, Francis implores respect for each one of them,” said Archbishop Rino Fisichella.