VATICAN CITY — At a young people’s detention center just outside of Rome this evening, Pope Francis urged a group of jailed teens to be at the service of one another, reminding them that Jesus came to serve and help mankind.
The Holy Father made the comments at the Casa del Marmo youth detention center, where he celebrated the Mass of Our Lord’s Supper for 50 young offenders, including 11 girls, as well as staff, volunteers and dignitaries.
Among those concelebrating the Mass with the Holy Father were the vicar of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini; the deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu; private secretary Msgr. Alfred Xuereb; and the detention center chaplain, Father Gaetano Greco.
The Vatican said that during the Mass the Pope “washed the feet of 12 young guests of the penal institute, of different nationalities and religious confessions, among them two girls.”
The decision to celebrate the Mass there was a break with papal tradition, which is normally celebrated in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. The Holy Father has not yet formally taken possession of the basilica as the bishop of Rome.
In his unscripted homily, Pope Francis recalled the “moving” washing of the feet by Jesus and the Lord’s explanation of his action.
“Jesus washes the feet of his disciples,” he recounted. “Peter understands nothing. He refuses, but Jesus explains to him. Jesus, God, did this, and he himself explains it to the disciples: ‘Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me teacher and master, and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.’”
The Holy Father explained that the foot-washing is important for Jesus “because among us the one who is highest up must be at the service of others.”
“This is a symbol; it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service,” he said. “And we are too, among each other, but we don’t have to wash each other’s feet each day. So what does this mean? That we have to help each other.”
“Sometimes I would get angry with someone, but we must let it go; and if they ask a favor of you, do it!” the Pope said.
‘Help One Another’
He continued, “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service. But it is a duty that comes from my heart and a duty I love. I love doing it because this is what the Lord has taught me. But you too must help us and help each other, always. And thus, in helping each other, we will do good for each other.”
In closing, the Pope said the ceremony of the washing of the feet should prompt each person to question, “Am I really willing to help others? Just think of that. Think that this sign is Christ’s caress, because Jesus came just for this: to serve us, to help us.”
As cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis would celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in prisons or hospices and sometimes wash the feet of girls. This is in variance from the normal canonical practice that only men should have their feet washed, as it signifies the fact that Christ’s apostles were all male.
Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in the Casa del Marmo during Lent in 2007.
Since his election, Pope Francis has sought to encourage the Church to look outwards more, and he reminded Catholics of the Church’s special role in caring for the poor and marginalized.
Presents for the Pope
At the end of Mass, before returning to the Vatican, Pope Francis met members of the institute, as well as government ministers in the prison gym. The boys in the prison gave the Pope a wooden crucifix and a kneeler that they had made in the institute workshop.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum. Tomorrow afternoon, the Holy Father will celebrate the Passion of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica, and, in the evening, he will lead the Via Crucis at the Colosseum.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.