In a bid to spread the message of harmony and brotherhood, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Hindu and Christian refugees and declared them all children of the same God. According to The Indian Express, he performed the gesture of welcome at a time of increased anti-Islamic sentiment following the Brussels attacks.
He performed this age-old ritual during an Easter Week Mass with asylum-seekers at a shelter in Castelnuovo di Porto, outside Rome. The Holy Thursday rite re-enacts the foot-washing ritual Jesus performed on his apostles before being crucified, and is meant as a gesture of service.
“We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace,” the Pope said in his homily. Several migrants wept as Francis knelt before them, poured holy water from a brass pitcher over their feet, wiped them clean and kissed them.
The Vatican said on Thursday that four women and eight men took part. The women included an Italian Catholic who works at the center and three Eritrean Coptic Christian migrants. The men included four Catholics from Nigeria, three Muslims from Mali, Syria and Pakistan and a Hindu man from India. Francis was greeted with a banner reading “Welcome” in a variety of languages as he walked down a makeshift aisle to celebrate the Mass.
Those who met the Pope received a personal greeting. At the end of the Mass, the Pope greeted each refugee, one by one, posing for selfies and accepting notes as he moved down the rows. Vatican rules had long called for only men to participate in the foot-washing ritual, and past popes and many priests traditionally performed it on 12 Catholic men, recalling Jesus’ 12 apostles and further cementing the doctrine of an all-male priesthood.
Pope Francis redefined this Catholic rule within weeks of his 2013 election-by performing the ritual on women and Muslims at a juvenile detention centre.