Pope: "washing of the feet" reminds us that "God loves us to the end"

Francis celebrated the Mass for the Lord's Supper in the Paliano prison, near Frosinone. The "pope stands in for Jesus and I would like to do the same as He did." Francis performed the rite of "washing of the feet" with 12 of the facility’s 70 inmates, ten Italians, an Argentine and an Albanian.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The "Washing of the Feet" on Holy Thursday "is not a folk ceremony" but a gesture to remember what Jesus did, to remember that "God loves us to the end", despite our sins, said Pope Francis during the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the prison of Paliano, near Frosinone, south of Rome.

The Holy Father told the 70 inmates, especially those who turned state’s evidence, that, as Jesus teaches us, the pope is the first called to "serve" in order to "sow love."

Francis commented “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end”, a passage in the Gospel that recounts the Last Supper. The Lord, he said, knew he was going to betrayed, and that Judas was going to hand him over, but he loved “to the end” and gave his life "for each of us."

"Loving to the end is not easy, because we are all sinners, we all have limits, defects, so many things, and, yes, we all know love, but we are not like God who loves without looking at the consequences, to the end. He is an example. And to show this, He who was 'the leader’, who was God, washed the feet of his disciples."

Washing the feet, the pope said, "was a custom performed before the midday and evening meals" because people got their feet dirty from walking. "But slaves performed this," Francis noted. Jesus "overturned" this rule and did it himself. Speaking to Simon Peter, who did not want to let Jesus do it, he said "that He had come into the world to serve, to serve us, to be a slave to us, to give his life for us, to love to the end."

"Today, as I was coming, and when I arrived, people greeted me. 'The pope is coming, the leader. The head of the Church . . . '. The head of the Church is Jesus, right! Let’s not joke about it. But the pope stands in for Jesus and I would like to do the same as He did. In this ceremony, the priest washes the feet of the faithful: he overturns [the positions]. Whoever seems the greatest has to do slave labour, in order to sow love, to sow love among us."

Francis asked the inmates to help each other, to perform "a service" for one another "because this is love, this is like washing the feet. It is serving others." Once, Francis said, "the disciples were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, the most important." Jesus told them that "the one who wants to be important, must be the smallest and the servant of everyone." This, he added, is what God does with us. God "serves us; he is the Servant."

"All of us are poor souls! But He is big, He is good. And He loves us the way we are. Therefore, during this ceremony, let us think about God, about Jesus. This is not a folk ceremony. It is a gesture to remember what Jesus gave. After this, he took the bread and gave us His Body; [then] he took the wine, and gave us His blood. And so is God’s love. Let us think about God's love, today only."

Afterwards Francis proceeded to perform the rite of the "washing of the feet" to 12 of the 70 detainees, ten Italians, an Argentine and an Albanian. They included three women and a Muslim who will be baptised in June. Paliano is a special prison. It is the only correctional facility in Italy reserved for people who turn state’s evidence. Two prisoners are purging a life sentence, whilst the others can expect to be freed between 2019 and 2073.