- (Photo: Reuters/Enrique Garcia Medina)
In a telling rejection of the lavish privileges and traditions that come with the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis' first few weeks in the office have been defined by simple living and unconventional acts of humility.
In a bold departure from a centuries old tradition on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis elected not to wash the hallowed feet of fellow priests but those of 12 young prisoners at the Casal del Marmo Penitentiary Institute for Minors in Rome. The group of youngsters who ranged in age from 14-21 included two women, one of whom is Muslim.
Pope Francis reportedly washed their feet to demonstrate that "no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him," according to Gospel of John 13:16.
"It is a gesture of humility and service," Father Tom Rosica, a Vatican Press Office spokesperson, noted before the ceremony.
"It teaches that liberation and new life are won not in presiding over multitudes from royal thrones nor by the quantity of bloody sacrifices offered on temple altars, but by walking with the lowly and poor and serving them as a foot-washer along the journey," he added
And although Pope Francis was already famous for leading the simple life of a Jesuit when he was just known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina, he seems keen on setting the stage for the same style of leadership in his papacy.
According to a report in Catholic New York, Pope Francis chose not to sit on a special white chair set up on an elevated platform shortly after his election.
"He looked at [it] and said, 'I'll stay down here,' so he met with each of us [cardinals] on our own level," said Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan.
He also declined living in the lap of a luxurious papal penthouse at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace according to another report. He has chosen instead a modest two-room home in a communal building with other priests. He reportedly noted through his spokesman that he was "trying out this type of simple living," breaking a more than century old tradition.
Every pope since Pope Pius X at the start of the 20th Century has lived in the penthouse which boasts more than 12 rooms, space for staff, a terrace and panoramic views of the city of Rome. And while it is unclear whether or not Pope Francis will be able to continue on this path as he gets deeper into the papacy, he plans on maintaining his current march of austerity for the foreseeable future.
The 76-year-old Pope Francis was the first Latin American and Jesuit elected to lead the Roman Catholic Church on March 13. He had spent a lifetime serving the poor and living a simple life in his native Argentina before then.
A recent Pew Research Center Poll showed that 90 percent of American Catholics who attend Mass at least once weekly approved of the new pope.