Pope Francis performed an annual Easter season ritual on Thursday (March 24), kneeling in front of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian refugees and washing and kissing their feet at a shelter in Castelnuovo di Porto, Italy.
The “Holy Thursday Mandatum” reenacts Jesus’s washing of his apostle’s feet before his crucifixion, and is performed by the Pope and other Catholic leaders to remind the faithful that they are to serve others humbly. This was the first year that women were included, and the ceremony seemed to take on additional significance in the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe and the US, and the migrant crisis in Europe.
The Pope also blessed a baby carried by a refugee woman:
Speaking before the ceremony, the Pope condemned the Brussels attack as an “act of war, of destruction … by people who do not want to live in peace.”
Eleven refugees participated in the ritual, including three Eritrean Coptic Christian migrants, four Catholics from Nigeria, three Muslims from Mali, Syria and Pakistan, and a Hindu man from India. “Several of the migrants then wept as Francis knelt before them, poured holy water from a brass pitcher over their feet, wiped them clean and kissed them,” the AP reported.
“All of us together: Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals. But all brothers and children of the same God,” the Pope said. “We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace.”