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Current Page: World | Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Pope Francis to Wash Feet of Male, Female Refugees on Holy Thursday

Pope Francis to Wash Feet of Male, Female Refugees on Holy Thursday

Pope Francis waves to the crowd while arriving to celebrate Mass in San Cristobal de las Casas, February 15, 2016. | (Photo: REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

Pope Francis has announced he will be washing the feet of both male and female refugees on Holy Thursday.

Twelve refugees, both women and men, will be participating in the event tomorrow at an asylum center in Castelnuovo di Porto, outside of Rome.

The annual event is meant to symbolize Jesus' washing of the twelve disciples' feet prior to his crucifixion.

As the Associated Press reports, since becoming the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013, Pope Francis has been open about his desire to wash the feet of unorthodox recipients.

While in the past, the tradition has been reserved for male-only members of the Catholic Church, Francis has branched out and washed the feet of women and Muslims.

Earlier this year, Francis officially changed the Catholic law to allow men, women, girls and boys to participate in feet washing ceremonies.

There is also a possibility that Francis could wash the feet of non-Catholics during Thursday's event, as the asylum center is home to a majority of non-Christians, the AP adds.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, announced the event in the L'Osservatore Romano newspaper.

"We can understand the symbolic value intended by Pope Francis' visit to the CARA in Castelnuovo di Porto and his bending down to wash the feet of refugees," the archibishop wrote. "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. We are urged to look forward to Easter with the eyes of those who make of their faith a life lived in service to those whose faces bear signs of suffering and violence."

Fisichella added that because several of the asylum's occupants are not Catholic, "this gesture by Pope Francis takes on even more eloquence."

"It points to respect as the royal road to peace. Respect means being aware that there is another person beside me. A person who walks with me, suffers with me, rejoices with me. A person whom, one day, I may one day lean on for support. By washing the feet of refugees, Pope Francis implores respect for each one of them," the pope added.

The pontiff announced in January that he had changed church rules to allow women and girls to participate in the foot-washing ritual, a move that was backed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The USCCB said on its website that the decision to include both genders is "an understandable way of accentuating the evangelical command of the Lord, 'who came to serve and not to be served,' that all members of the Church must serve one another in love."

Last Holy Thursday, the pope washed the feet of 12 prisoners, as well as a baby, at Rome's main prison.

After washing and kissing each foot, Francis said in a speech that the purpose of the ritual is to show that Jesus' forgiveness and purity is open to all people.

"Even I need to be cleansed by the Lord," he said during the April 2015 speech. "And for this, pray during this Mass, so that the Lord also washes my filth also, so that I become more slave-like in the service of people as Jesus did."

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