Headlines > Pope Francis to wash feet of inmates at a prison outside Rome known for holding ex-Mafia who turned state's witness

06 April 2017 | by Christopher Lamb

Pope Francis to wash feet of inmates at a prison outside Rome known for holding ex-Mafia who turned state's witness

Security expected to be tight at fortress-style facility which was a former papal states prison in 19th century

Pope Francis will wash the feet of inmates at a prison in central Italy during a Holy Thursday liturgy, an annual ritual which he has used as a symbol of papal humility and his mission to the marginalised.

On 13 April, Francis will travel to a detention centre in Paliano, 40 miles south of Rome, where he will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, a liturgy where the priest emulates the moment Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.  

The prison in Paliano, in the province of Frosinone, is housed in a fortress style building in what is understood to have also been used by some of Francis predecessors as a prison during the 19th century papal states. 

This is not the first time the Pope has celebrated the Last Supper Mass in a prison. Soon after his election, Francis travelled to Rome’s Casal del Marmo youth detention centre where he made history by washing the feet of both women and Muslim inmates, a moment that set the tone for a papacy that would be focussed on the “peripheries.” 

The following year he went to a centre for the disabled, and then, in 2015 went to the Rebibbia prison, Rome where he once again washed the feet of women, a number of whom were moved to tears by the experience.

Last year, Francis once again left the Vatican for the Holy Thursday Mass by travelling north of the Eternal City to the Castelnuovo di Porto centre for asylum seekers where he included Muslims and Hindus among the twelve who had their feet washed.   

The tradition of taking the Last Supper liturgy to the underprivileged is something Francis started when he was Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires where he would celebrate the rite in hospitals, hospices, and drug addict rehabilitation centres. 

His decision in 2013 to wash the feet of women, sparked debate among liturgists given that Church rules at the time prohibited females taking part in the service in order to symbolise the sending out of Christ’s twelve, male-only disciples. 

But last year Francis decreed that the ritual would be open to women so that “it might express more fully the meaning of Jesus' gesture… His giving of Himself unto the end for the salvation of the world, His limitless charity”.

Before the decree it had already been common practice for parishes to include both sexes in the foot washing rite, while senior Vatican liturgist, Archbishop Arthur Roche, pointed that the Pope’s change was a return to the pre-1955 tradition where both female and male laity were washed.


PICTURE: Pope Francis washes the foot of a man during the foot-washing ritual at the Castelnuovo di Porto refugees centre outside of Rome in 2016.

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