Published On: Fri, Mar 25th, 2016

Pope washes, kisses feet of Muslim migrants, says “we are brothers”


VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Christian and Hindu refugees Thursday and declared them all children of the same God, as he performed a gesture of welcome and brotherhood at a time of increased anti-Muslim sentiment following the Brussels attacks.

Francis denounced the carnage as a “gesture of war” carried out by blood-thirsty people beholden to the weapons industry 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.

Pope Francis kisses the foot of a refugee during the foot washing ritual at the Castelnuovo di Porto refugees center.

Francis contrasted that gesture with the “gesture of destruction” carried out by the Brussels attackers, saying they wanted to destroy the brotherhood of humanity represented by the migrants.

“We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace,” Francis said in his homily, delivered off-the-cuff in the windy courtyard of the center.

Pope Francis blesses a baby during the foot washing ritual.

Several of the migrants then wept as Francis knelt before them, poured holy water from a brass pitcher over their feet, wiped them clean and kissed them.

Francis was greeted with a banner reading “Welcome” in a variety of languages as he walked down a makeshift aisle to celebrate the Mass. But only a fraction of the 892 asylum-seekers living at the shelter attended, and many of the seats were left empty. Those who came out, though, received a personal greeting: At the end of the Mass, Francis 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.

The Vatican’s new norms said anyone from the “people of God” could be chosen to participate in the ceremony. While the phrase “people of God” refers to baptized Christians, the decree also said that pastors should instruct “both the chosen faithful and others so that they may participate in the rite consciously, actively and fruitfully,” suggesting that the rite could be open to non-Catholics as well.

Pope Francis shakes hands with Muslims during his visit at the Castelnuovo di Porto refugees center.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican norms are meant for traditional liturgies in Catholic communities, not necessarily a unique papal Mass where the overall message is one of universal brotherhood and the love of God for all his children.

“All of us, together: Muslims, Hindi, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals. But brothers, children of the same God,” Pope said. “We want to live in peace, integrated.”


About the Author

Syed Ammar Alavi

- is Lahore (Pakistan) based journalist & writer with 25-year experience in print, wire and broadcast forms of journalism. His major fields of interest are politics, film,tv,sports, climate change and technology