Pope Francis has visited the Velletri Correctional Facility, presiding, as is tradition, over the celebration of the Mass in Coena Domini with the Rite of the washing of the feet, beginning the Paschal Triduum.
After delivering an off-the-cuff homily, in which he stressed that everyone–no one excluded–must serve others, the Holy Father washed the feet of 12 detainees, including nine Italians, one Brazilian, one from the Ivory Coast and one from Morocco.
“All of us must also be servants,” he said in the homily. “It’s true that in life there are problems: we quarrel among ourselves . . . however, this must be something that passes, a passing thing, because in our heart there must always be this love of service of the other; to be at the service of the other.”
Fraternity, Francis underscored, is humble, “always.”
With this spirit, he pointed out, he will perform this gesture of the Washing of the Feet.
“The Church,” he said, “wants the Bishop to do it every year, once a year, at least on Holy Thursday — to imitate Jesus’ gesture and also to do good with the example also for himself, because the Bishop isn’t the most important, but he must be the greater servant. And each one of us must be servant…”
“This is Jesus’ rule and the rule of the Gospel: the rule of service, not of dominating, of harming, of humiliating others. Service!”
The Roman Pontiff was welcomed by the facility’s director, Maria Donata Iannantuono; the Vice-director, Pia Palmeri; the commandant of the penitentiary police, Maria Luisa Abossida, and chaplain, Father Franco Diamante, and greeted civil personnel, the police and detainees. At the end of the celebration, the Holy Father returned to the Vatican.
The detention center, located one hour from the capital, was opened in 1991. It consists of two four-story pavilions, with 275 cells housing approximately 550 detainees (official figures from January 2018), and a police department.
This marks the fifth time that the Argentine pope celebrated Holy Thursday with the incarcerated. Since his election in 2013, each year he has not followed his recent predecessors’ tradition of celebrating this liturgy characterized by the washing of the feet, in St. Peter’s, but in places such as prison, refugee center or for the disabled.
Here is a ZENIT working translation of Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff homily:
I greet you all and I thank you for your hospitality.
I received a lovely letter a few days ago, from some of you who won’t be here today. They said such lovely things to me and I thank them for what they wrote.
In this prayer I am very united to all: those that are here and those that aren’t.
We heard what Jesus did; it’s interesting. The Gospel says: Jesus knowing that the Father had given everything in His hands,” namely, Jesus had all the power — all. And then, He begins to do this gesture of washing the feet. It’s a gesture that slaves did at that time, because there wasn’t asphalt on the streets and when the people arrived, they had dust on their feet. When they arrived at a house for a visit or for lunch, there were slaves that washed the feet. And Jesus does this gesture: He washes the feet; He does the gesture of a slave. He, who had all the power, He who was the Lord, does the gesture of a slave. And then He counsels all: “Do this gesture also among yourselves,” that is, serve one another, be brothers in service, not in ambition, as someone who dominates the other or one who strikes another. No. Be brothers in service. You are in need of something, of a service? I’ll do it for you. This is fraternity. Fraternity is humble — always: it is at service. And I will do this gesture — the Church wants the Bishop to do it every year, once a year, at least on Holy Thursday — to imitate Jesus’ gesture and also to do good with the example also for himself, because the Bishop isn’t the most important, but he must be the greater servant. And each one of us must be servant of the others.
This is Jesus’ rule and the rule of the Gospel: the rule of service, not of dominating, of harming, of humiliating others. Service! Once, when the Apostles were arguing among themselves, they were discussing “who is the most important among us,” Jesus took a child and said: “A child: if your heart isn’t the heart of a child, you won’t be my disciples.” A child’s heart, simple, humble but servant. And He adds an interesting thing there, which we can link with today’s gesture. He says: “Be careful, the Heads of Nations dominate, but it must not be so among you. The greatest must serve the littlest. One who feels himself the greatest must be servant.” All of us must also be servants. It’s true that in life there are problems: we quarrel among ourselves . . . however, this must be something that passes, a passing thing, because in our heart there must always be this love of service of the other; to be at the service of the other.
And may this gesture that I will do today be for all of us a gesture that helps us to be more servants of one another, more friends, more brothers in service. With these sentiments, we continue the celebration with the washing of the feet.[Original text: Italian, Translation by ZENIT]