19 April 2019, The Tablet

Before washing the feet of prisoners, Francis says bishops must be servants

Pope performs the Last Supper's foot washing ritual in a prison outside of Rome

Before washing the feet of prisoners, Francis says bishops must be servants

Pope Francis washes the feet of an inmate during a Holy Thursday celebration at Velletri Correctional Facility, 36 miles south of Rome.
CNS photo/Vatican Media, via Reuters

Church leaders must shake off any sense of self-importance and adopt a ministry of service, Pope Francis told prisoners on Holy Thursday before washing their feet. 

Francis travelled to a prison in Velletri, an hour outside of Rome, to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the first of the Holy Week Triduum of services. 

Throughout his six-year pontificate, the Pope has taken the washing of the feet ritual outside of St Peter’s Basilica to prisons, to refugees and a centre for the elderly and disabled.  

This year he had to travel further afield because he has already washed the feet of inmates in three of the city of Rome’s main prisons. 

“The bishop isn’t the most important. The bishop must be the most servant-like,” the Pope told the inmates. 

These remarks echo an important speech Francis gave during the Synod of Bishops in 2015 where he talked of an inverted pyramid church where those supposedly at the top are “located beneath the base.” 

He then applied this theology to the prisoners’ power structure, by urging them not to lord it over one other and not to let fights that break out between them to be anything more than a fleeting dispute.  

“The biggest must serve the smallest. He who feels biggest must be the servant. May this gesture that I make help us to be more servant-like with one another, more friendly, brothers in service,” the Pope said. 

Francis then got down his knees and washed the feet of 12 inmates: nine Italians, one from Ivory Coast, one from Brazil and one from Morocco. 

The Pope, who suffers from leg and back pain caused by sciatica, lent on the help of his aides to stand up and kneel down before each prisoner. 

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