ROME — Pope Francis had a message for prison inmates at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday: Jesus does not play it safe, but takes a risk on each one of us, even to the point of washing our feet in the act of a servant.
“Jesus comes to serve us, and the signal that Jesus serves here today, at the Regina Coeli Prison, is that he wanted to choose 12 of you, like the Twelve Apostles, to wash your feet,” the Pope said March 29.
Francis noted that Jesus takes a risk on everyone, even himself, telling the 12 inmates whose feet he would wash later in the Mass that as he bows in front of them, they should think: “Jesus took a risk on this man, a sinner, to come to me and tell me who loves me.”
“This is service — this is Jesus: He never abandons us; he never tires of forgiving us. He loves us so much.”
Pope Francis spoke these words in a brief homily during his celebration of the Holy Thursday Mass.
During the Mass, the Pope washed the feet of 12 prisoners, as he has done on three former occasions. This year, the inmates included eight Catholics, two Muslims, one Orthodox Christian and one Buddhist.
They came from different countries, including the Philippines, Nigeria, Colombia, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Moldova and Italy.
During his visit, Francis stopped to meet the sick inmates in the prison’s infirmary and those in a different, high-security section of the prison. This is the fourth time Francis has celebrated Maundy Thursday Mass at a prison.
Though the visit was private, an Italian radio station aired the reading of the Gospel and the Pope’s homily. He said that though there are hateful people in the world who do not serve others and choose to discard them instead, Jesus says: “You are important to me.”
When Jesus washed the feet of his 12 disciples, he took a great risk, the Pope said, but he wanted to do this because he came to serve, not be served. “Know this: Jesus is called Jesus; he is not called Pontius Pilate. Jesus cannot wash his hands: He only knows how to take a risk!” he said.
Later in the Mass, before the Sign of Peace, Francis added a few words about the importance of being at peace with everyone, even those who have wronged us, and invited those present to spend a moment of silence thinking of both the people they love and the people they do not love.
“All of us —I’m sure all of us — have the desire to be at peace with everyone,” he said. “But in our hearts, there are so many conflicting feelings.”
“It is easy to be at peace with those we love and with those who do good for us; but it is not easy to be at peace with those who have wronged us, who do not love us ...” he continued. “Ask the Lord, in silence, for the grace to give everyone, good and bad, the gift of peace.”
At the end of the visit, Francis addressed the director of the prison, encouraging her to always plant seeds of hope in her work at Regina Coeli, striving to help each prisoner one day be reintegrated into society.
He also criticized capital punishment, stating that “the death penalty is neither human nor Christian. Every punishment must be open to hope, to reintegration, also to share the experience lived for the good of other people.”