Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Casal del Marmo prison for minors, northwest of Rome, on April 6, 2023. On this Holy Thursday, which commemorates the Last Supper of Christ, the Pope washed and kissed the feet of a dozen young inmates, inviting them not to be discouraged because Jesus “never abandons” them.
For this celebration, the Pope was surrounded by a few hundred people, including Italian, Arab, African, Roma, atheist, Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim prisoners, Vatican News reported. This is the second time the Pope has celebrated this liturgy in this juvenile prison; the first was his first Holy Week as pope in 2013.
It has been a tradition since his election for the former archbishop of Buenos Aires to visit places of suffering or marginalization on Holy Thursday.
In his impromptu homily, the Pope meditated on the ritual gesture of foot washing, which the rite includes in this Mass, following the example of Jesus. In the time of Christ, he explained to the 50 or so young people between the ages of 14 and 25 who were present, it was “the slaves” who were responsible for removing the dust from the feet when a guest entered a house.
Jesus therefore did “slave work” to make it clear that the next day, by dying on the cross, he was going to give himself up “like a slave to pay the debt of all of us,” continued the Bishop of Rome.
The gesture of washing the feet “is not something folkloric”; by performing it “Jesus wants to teach us the nobility of the heart,” he stressed.
The 266th Pope then encouraged “helping each other” and “extending our hand,” rather than “ripping each other off.”
In society,” he said, “we see so many people who take advantage of one another. […] So much injustice, so many people without work, … so many people who have no money to buy medicine, so many families destroyed.”
“Jesus loves us as we are,” Pope Francis assured young inmates who might be tempted to get discouraged by thinking, “If the Pope knew what’s inside me …”
He said: “Jesus knows … Jesus is never afraid of our weaknesses, because he has already paid [for them], he only wants to accompany us, to take us by the hand, so that life is not so hard for us.”
“Each of us can slip,” the head of the Catholic Church stressed again. “Jesus is always by your side, he never abandons you,” he told the young prisoners.
After these words, the 86-year-old pontiff — who had arrived in a wheelchair — stood and washed and kissed the feet of 12 young people, including two girls. “I hope to be able to do this because I can’t walk well,” he had said in his homily.
Since his release from the hospital last Saturday, after treatment for bronchitis, he has led the activities of Holy Week, including Palm Sunday Mass, the Wednesday general audience, and this morning’s Chrism Mass.