Pope Francis washes asylum seekers' feet
CASTELNUOVO DI PORTO, Italy – Pope Francis washed the feet of 11 young asylum seekers and a worker at their reception center on Thursday, March 24, to highlight the need for the international community to provide shelter to refugees.
Several of the asylum seekers, one holding a baby in her arms, were reduced to tears as the 79-year-old pontiff kneeled before them, pouring water over their feet, drying them with a towel, and bending to kiss them.
It was a "fraternal" gesture which sharply contrasted with the "gesture of war, of destruction, committed 3 days ago in a European city" by "people who do not want to live in peace," the Pope said in a reference to deadly suicide bombings in Brussels claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS) group. (READ: 3 Brussels attackers identified as nation mourns)
"Behind that gesture...there are arms traffickers, who want war, not fraternity", Francis said at the center of Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome, in an improvised homily.
Those picked for this Easter ritual were 4 Nigerian Catholics; 3 Eritrean Coptic women; 3 Muslims from Mali, Pakistan, and Syria; and a Hindu Indian, as well as an Italian worker from the center.
Pope: Open doors to refugees
"We are all brothers and we want to live in peace," the pontiff said at the open-air, windblown Mass in the courtyard of the reception center, one of the largest in Italy.
The rite, performed yearly on Holy Thursday, commemorates Jesus Christ's Last Supper with the apostles.
The center, run by the Italian interior ministry, houses 892 people from 25 countries, including 36 women and 7 minors.
Francis has long called for the global community, and Europe in particular, to open its doors to refugees and step up the fight against xenophobia. (READ: Pope to priests, nuns: Help refugees or pay taxes)
Thursday's ceremony is part of the run-up to Easter Sunday, and has seen the Argentine pontiff in the past wash the feet of prison inmates and disabled people.
Shortly after his election in 2013, Francis visited a youth detention center where he performed the ritual on a group of young inmates including two Muslims – the first Catholic leader ever to do so. – Rappler.com