Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of 12 refugees on Holy Thursday last week in preparation of Easter, declaring that people of all religions are "children of the same God."
"All of us together: Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals ... all brothers and children of the same God," the pontiff said during mass before the foot washing ceremony. "We want to live together in peace."
The 12 refugees chosen to take part of the interfaith ceremony included Muslims, Coptic Christians, and one Hindu. For the fist time the foot washing event also included women, as Francis asked for them to be added.
The Maundy Thursday tradition dates back to the Last Supper of Christ, where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.
Pope Francis has participated in several such ceremonies throughout his time as pontiff, including at juvenile detention centers, where he has also broken from tradition and washed the feet of women.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, has attempted to explain the symbolic value of Francis' efforts:
"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 said.
The Roman Catholic Church leader has been outspoken about the plight of refugees coming into Europe, many of them fleeing war and persecution, and has warned that those who ignore their plight are like the people who washed their hands of Jesus' fate.
In a Palm Sunday homily last week, Francis recalled the "mockery, insults, and spitting," along with the beatings and torture that Jesus endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers before His crucifixion.
"Pilate then sends Him to Herod, who in turn sends Him to the Roman governor. Even as every form of justice is denied to Him, Jesus also experiences in His own flesh indifference, since no one wishes to take responsibility for His fate," he said, and then paused to reflect: "And I am thinking of so many people, so many on the margins, so many refugees" for whom "many don't want to assume responsibility for their destiny."
Francis has urged European leaders to refuse to allow fear and uncertainty to get in the way of helping the refugees.
"Extremism and fundamentalism find fertile soil not only in the exploitation of religion for purposes of power, but also in the vacuum of ideals and the loss of identity — including religious identity — which dramatically marks the so-called West," the pope told European diplomats in January.
"This vacuum gives rise to the fear which leads to seeing the other as a threat and an enemy, to closed-mindedness and intransigence in defending preconceived notions."