Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates and a baby at Rome's main prison yesterday in a pre-Easter ritual meant to show his willingness to serve. He asked them to pray that he, too, might be cleansed of his "filth." As the inmates wept, Francis knelt down, poured water from a pitcher onto one foot apiece, dried it, and then kissed it, re-enacting the ritual that Jesus performed on his apostles before he was crucified. The inmates included six men from Rebibbia prison and six women from the nearby women's detention center. One was a mother carrying her son on her lap: Francis washed and kissed his little foot as well.
Francis has revolutionized the Holy Thursday foot-washing ceremony by performing it on women and non-Catholics and by traveling to detention centers and facilities for the sick. Vatican rules say the ritual should be performed on men, given that Jesus' apostles were male. Francis explained the foot-washing ceremony is meant to show Jesus' willingness to serve others like a slave, to cleanse and purify them completely. "Even I need to be cleansed by the Lord," he said. "And for this, pray during this Mass, so that the Lord also washes my filth ... so that I become more slave-like in the service of people as Jesus did." The pontiff has focused much attention on prison ministry, denouncing the death penalty as inhumane and calling life terms "hidden" death sentences.