On Thursday, Pope Francis visited a refugee center to wash and kiss the feet of several refugees; including Muslims, Hindus and Copts — a gesture of solidarity and peace two days after the Brussels and Paris attacks stirred anti-Muslim attitudes.
The Holy Thursday rite re-enacts the foot-washing ritual that dates back to the story of Jesus’ Last Supper, and is meant as a gesture of humility and service.
Gestures, like Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, “speak louder than words,” the Pope said during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s last Supper.
“All of us together, he added, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals … all brothers and children of the same God, despite different cultural and religious backgrounds, we want to live together in peace.”
Prior to his arrival, the Pope sent some Easter presents for the centre’s guests: 200 chocolate Easter eggs, a wooden chess board, and several autographed footballs and baseballs.
Speaking to the refugees, the Pope said there were two distinct gestures in the day’s Gospel: Jesus serving and washing the feet of his disciples and Judas’ betrayal.
The Pope noted that while there are some people in the world who seek to sow violence, Jesus shows us the path to unity, brotherhood and peace.
Recalling the recent tragedy in Brussels,he condemned the Brussels attack as an “act of war, of destruction … by people who do not want to live in peace.”
Acknowledging the suffering endured by the refugees, Pope Francis asked them to pray in “their own religious language” so that there may “always be brotherhood and goodness.”
After his homily, the Pontiff removing his vestments, knelt before the refugees and began to wash their feet one after the other. The refugees were overwhelmed with emotions and and some of them wept as Pope Francis knelt before them, poured Holy water over their feet, wiped them clean and kissed them. A young mother wiped her tears as the Pope gazed at her and reached out to touch her baby.
In previous years, Francis has observed Maundy Thursday by washing the feet of prisoners, the elderly and people with disabilities. Shortly after his election as pope in 2013, the pontiff made waves by including women in his foot washing ceremony at a juvenile detention center.