At 3 p.m. yesterday afternoon, Holy Thursday, Pope Francis left his residence Casa Santa Marta and went to the Prison of Paliano, in the province of Frosinone, Diocese of Palestrina.
In the course of the rite, the Holy Father washed the feet of 12 prisoners among them were three women and a Muslim, who will be baptized in June; an Argentine, an Albanian and the rest Italians. Among these, two are sentenced to life and all the others should finish their sentence between 2019 and 2073.
Here is a Zenit translation of the text of the homily Pope Francis gave off-the-cuff after the proclamation of the Holy Gospel.
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The Holy Father’s Homily
Jesus was at supper with them in the Last Supper and, says the Gospel, He knew that His hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He knew he had been betrayed and that He was to be handed over that very night by Judas. “Having loved His own, who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” God loves like this: to the end. And He gives His life for each one of us, and He boasts of this and wants this because He is love: “To love to the end.” It’s not easy because all of us are sinners; we all have limitations, defects, so many things. We are all able to love, but we are not like God, who loves without looking at the consequences, to the end. And He gives the example: to have this understood, He who was “the head,” who was God, washes the feet of His disciples. The washing of feet was a custom that was done at the time, before lunch and before supper, because there wasn’t any pavement and the people walked in the dust. Therefore, one of the gestures to receive a person at home, and also to eat, was to wash his feet. Slaves did this, those who were enslaved did this, but Jesus turns things upside down and does it Himself. Simon did not want Him to do it, but Jesus explained to him that it must be so, that He came to the world to serve, to serve us, to make Himself a slave for us, to give His life for us, to love to the end.
Today, when I arrived, there were people on the street greeting: “The Pope is coming, the head, the head of the Church . . .” Jesus is the head of the Church; we are not joking! The Pope is the figure of Jesus and I would like to do the same thing He did. In this ceremony, the parish priest washes the feet of the faithful. There is a reversal: the one who seems the greatest must do the work of the slave, but to sow love. — to sow love among us. I don’t tell you today to go and wash the feet of one another: it would be a joke. But the symbol, the figure yes: I will tell you that if you can give help, do a service here, in prison, to your man or woman companion, do it.
Because this is love, this is as washing of feet. It is to be the servant of others. Once the disciples were arguing among themselves, about who was he greatest, the most important. And Jesus said: “He who wants to be important, must make himself small and servant of all.” And this is what He did; God does this with us. He serves us. He is the servant – of all of us, who are poor things, all! But He is great; He is good. And He loves us as we are. Therefore, during this ceremony we think of God, of Jesus. It’s not a trivial ceremony: it is a gesture to remember what Jesus has given <us>. After this, He took bread and gave us His Body; He took wine, and gave us His Blood. God’s love is like this. Today let us think only of the love of god.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]