VATICAN CITY — During his homily for Holy Thursday’s Mass at a center for disabled persons, Pope Francis reflected on how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, calling it an act of loving service that we ought to imitate.
“He did it this way out of love. You too should love each other. Be servants in love,” the Pope said in his April 17 homily during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
Celebrated by the Church each year in commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist and Jesus’ call for his disciples to imitate him in serving others, this particular Mass was held in the Don Gnocchi facility. Located in Rome’s Casal del Marmo area, it serves as a rehabilitation center for the elderly and disabled.
Beginning his reflections, the Holy Father immediately turned to the Gospel reading in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet on his knees, explaining that this is an invitation and telling those present that “you too should be servants, one to the other.”
Jesus’ act in washing the apostle’s feet “is a symbolic gesture,” he noted, emphasizing how “slaves did it; servants did it.”
During that time, when guests entered the house, “it was necessary to wash their feet” because the streets were all made of dirt, the Pope continued. “And Jesus did this gesture, the work of a servant, of a slave.”
Highlighting how this act is a “legacy” that Jesus leaves to us, Pope Francis stated, “We should always be servants to one another,” and he emphasized that it is for this reason the Church on Holy Thursday “commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus,” during which he instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Repeating that “we should be servants to one another,” the Holy Father then explained, “Now, I will do this same gesture, but all of us in our hearts think of others.”
“And we think of the love of Jesus, who tells us that we should have that love for others. We think also how we can serve” Jesus well, “because this is what Jesus wanted for us.”
Serving Those on the Margins of Society
This marks the second year in a row that Pope Francis has chosen to celebrate the Mass of Our Lord’s Supper with those who are often pushed to the margins of society, having visited and washed the feet of inmates in a Roman youth detention center.
The 12 persons whose feet the Holy Father washed are: nine Italians, one Muslim from Libya, a young man from Cape Verde and an Ethiopian woman, who are all suffering from physical, neurological and oncological illnesses.
The youngest of those who had their feet washed is a 16-year-old youth named Oswaldinho, who hails from Cape Verde and is completely paralyzed, following a diving accident last summer. Not far behind Oswaldinho was 19-year-old Marco, who is a high-school student and leader of his parish youth group; he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy just last year.
The eldest of the 12 was Pietro, 86, who has been a resident at the center for a year and who struggles with mobility and muscular deficiency. Another was 75-year-old Hamed, who is a Muslim man originally from Libya; he worked for the Italian-Arab Chamber of Commerce before being involved in a traffic accident that caused serious neurological impairment.
The other eight who had their feet washed by the Pope are Orietta, 51, who suffers from an illness affecting her brain; Samuel, 66, who has had polio from his youth; Angelica, 86, the former president of Catholic Action in Italy, who has had hip replacement surgery twice; Daria, 39, who has suffered with cerebral palsy from her childhood; Gianluca, 36, who, from the age of 14, has undergone numerous operations as a result of meningitis; Stefano, 49, who suffers from a serious cerebral and motor disorder; Giordana, 27, from Ethiopia, who suffers from cerebral palsy and epilepsy; and Walter, 59, who has Down syndrome.
Tomorrow, Good Friday, Pope Francis is slated to preside over the service commemorating the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter’s Basilica at 5pm, after which he will lead the faithful in the Stations of the Cross, a prayer commemorating the last events of Jesus' life before he died on the cross, at the Colosseum at 9:15pm.