In keeping with his practice each year of his Pontificate, Pope Francis on Holy Thursday, March 29, 2018, washed the feet of prison inmates during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
This year, the Holy Father visited Regina Coeli Prison, perhaps the best-known of Rome’s prisons, located very close to the Vatican. It was built in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood in 1654 as a Catholic Convent, converted to a prison in 1881.
The prison holds detainees from more than 60 nations, holding up to 900 inmates. It has received attention in the media due to overcrowding and high suicide rates.
The inmates chosen for the ritual of the washing of the feet were 12 men from seven countries: four Italians, two Filipinos, two Moroccans, one Moldovan, one Colombian, one Nigerian and 1 from Sierra Leone. Eight were Catholic; two were Muslims; an Orthodox and a Buddhist.
The Pope explained to the inmates that the in the time of Christ, washing of feet was something slaves did for travelers when they entered their home after traveling the dusty roads. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples it was to show them the importance of service – of how we must treat one another.
“I am a sinner like you. But I represent Jesus today,” Pope Francis told the inmates, as reported in Vatican News. “Jesus took a risk with this man, a sinner, to come to me to tell me that he loves me. This is service. This is Jesus. Before giving us himself in his body and blood, Jesus risked himself for each one of us—risked himself in service—because he loves us so much.”
In addition to celebrating Mass and his encounter for the 12 for the washing of feet, the Holy Father visited inmates in the prison infirmary and those held in a special section because they require extra security.
In previous years, the Holy Father Francis celebrated Holy Thursday Mass in the following places:
2017 Prison of Paliano
2016 C.A.R.A. Castel Novo di Porto
2014 Don Gnocchi Foundation
2013 Casal del Marmo child prison
Francis is the fourth pontiff to visit Regina Coeli Prison:: Pope John XXIII in 1958, Pope Paul VI in 1964, and Pope John Paul II in the year 2000.