‘We are brothers’: Pope washes feet of refugees during Holy Thursday Mass

Image: Reuters
In an extraordinary gesture affirming our common humanity and his emphasising open-arms policy towards those forced to flee their homelands, Pope Francis yesterday washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Orthodox, Hindu and Catholic refugees. They are all the children of the same God, he declared.

As he poured holy water from a brass pitcher over their feet, wiped them clean and kissed them, several of the migrants were moved to tears.

The gesture is particularly significant in view of the growing anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment across the West and which has been fuelled further by the terror attack in Brussels.

The Holy Thursday ritual commemorating Jesus washing the feet of his apostles before being crucified symbolises the spirit of service towards humanity.  The Pope performed his service during the Easter Week Mass with asylum-seekers provided shelter in Castelnuovo di Porto, near Rome city.

The Pope contrasted his own gesture with the “gesture of war” and “gesture of destruction” perpetrated by the blood-thirsty terrorists. He added that the terror acts were aimed at destroying the brotherhood of all humanity which the plight of the migrants invokes.

“We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace,” said the pontiff.

The Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio who became Pope Francis in March 2013, is the first non-European to be elevated to the high office in over 1,300 years. And in his short stint as head of the Roman Catholic Church, he has repeatedly shown that he is a Pope with a difference.

Before him, the feet-washing ritual was performed on 12 men, all Catholic. But within weeks of his 2013 election, he shocked many followers by performing the ritual on women and Muslims at a juvenile detention centre.

Four women and eight men took part in the event on Thursday. The women included an Italian Catholic who works at the centre 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.

Pope Francis’ definition of the “people of God” clearly includes everyone.

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

In June 2013, the Pope stunned his followers and the world at large with his remark, “If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” We shouldn't marginalise people for this. They must be integrated into society, he said. Just months before then his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI had suggested that gay marriage was a threat to global peace.

The Pope believes that economic inequality is the world’s “No. 1 problem” and that capitalism is at the center of all problems of inequality.

He is no less outspoken on the issue of war and peace. “Jesus is weeping today, too, because we have preferred the path of war, the path of hatred, the path of enmity,” the “commander-in-chief” of 1.2 billion Catholics across the globe said in November 2015 during the Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he lives.

Choosing war, he said, is like saying, “‘Let’s make weapons, that way we can balance the budget a bit and move our own interests forward.’ The Lord has strong words for those people: ‘Be cursed!’ He said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ Those who decide for war, who make wars, are cursed; they are criminals.”

While arms sellers around the world are getting rich, the Pope said, peacemakers are humbly helping people one at a time.

In September 2015, the pontiff issued an appeal to people of “all religions” to come forward and offer shelter to the refugees from war-ravaged Syria and elsewhere. “May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family,” he said and announced that the Vatican would do its bit by extending help to two families at its parishes.

In February this year, Pope Francis suggested that the Republican aspirant in the American presidential race, Donald Trump was “not a Christian”. The New York Times reported him as stating: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” The statement was in response to a reporter who asked him about Mr. Trump on the papal airliner as he returned to Rome after his six-day visit to Mexico.



Related Articles