By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In a moving ceremony that recalled how Jesus loved the world so deeply that he lowered himself to serve and died for everyone’s sins, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 prison inmates, plus a toddler who lives with his incarcerated mother.
"Jesus loved us, Jesus loves us, but without any limits, always, all the way to the end," he said during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper April 2.
"He does not tire of loving anyone, he loves all of us" so much that he gave his life in order "to give life to us, for each one of us … for you, for you, for me, for them," he said, pointing to the inmates gathered in the "Our Father" chapel in Rome’s Rebibbia prison complex.
The pope arrived at the prison to the cheers and shouts of hundreds of prisoners chanting "Francesco" and applauding as they stood along metal barricades lining a prison courtyard.
After getting out of a car, the pope turned to a concrete prison block behind him and waved, presumably because voices and cheers were coming from within the barred windows.
He greeted, hugged, clasped hands with and kissed scores of inmates. Many held plastic rosaries to be blessed; others wanted just to stroke his hand or ask him to pray for someone in a picture they showed him.
In his brief, off-the-cuff homily, the pope explained the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and the significance of Jesus washing his apostles’ feet.
Back in Jesus’ era, he said, when people came to visit, their feet would be dirty from wearing sandals on dusty roads.
"They didn’t have sampietrini cobblestones back then," he said, as people smiled, recalling Rome’s stone-lined streets.
But instead of having a slave wash the apostles’ feet, Jesus performed the ritual himself to the apostles’ shock and incomprehension, the pope said.
Jesus loved people so much, he said, that "he became a slave in order to serve us, heal us, cleanse us," he said.
Pope Francis said the church today asks "the priest to wash the feet of 12 people in memory of the 12 apostles."
But in order to draw authentic meaning from the ceremony, everyone must "have the certainty in our hearts, we must be sure that when the Lord washes our foot, he washes away everything, he purifies us, he makes us feel his love once more."
He said the men and women who would participate in the foot washing ceremony would be representing everyone, all 2,100 people, housed in the detention facility.
The pope then said that he, too, needed to be cleansed by the Lord, and asked that everyone pray that "the Lord also wash away my filth so that I become more of your servant, more of a servant in the service of the people, like Jesus was."
Before washing the foot of a mother from Nigeria, the pope washed the tiny foot of her small boy, who calmly watched the proceedings from his mother’s lap.
Female detainees with children younger than 3 live in the prison?s maternity section with their offspring.
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