VATICAN CITY – “During the washing of the feet – I hope I get by because I can’t walk well – but during the washing of the feet you think: “Jesus washed my feet, Jesus saved me, and I have this difficulty now”. But it will pass. The Lord is always beside you, never abandons, never. Think of this.”
In the chapel of the juvenile prison, Francis prepares to repeat the unheard-of gesture of Jesus washing the apostles’ feet“Do you understand what I have done to you?” The Pope is back in Casal del Marmo ten years latera memorable first time: fifteen days had passed since his election and Bergoglio made one of his first breaks with what he has always deplored as «the logic of “it has always been done this way”», and instead of going into the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano decided to celebrate Mass In the Lord’s Supper of Holy Thursday in the Roman juvenile prison.
Now he arrives there 5 days after leaving Gemini, they have prepared for him a small stage so that you shouldn’t bend too much during the ritual. There are ten boys and two girls, half underage, Italians and foreigners, and among them a Muslim boy from Senegal, two Sinti, a Croatian, a Rumanian and a Russian, all very excited. “I always pray for you, Pope Francis, and I love you” says the Croatian boy, Matteo, who bursts into tears after the pontiff has washed his feet and makes the sign of the cross three times.
Francesco presided over Mass, concelebrated by Monsignor Diego Giovanni Ravelli, in front of a hundred people including prisoners, the director and prison staff. You spoke off the cuff, a didactic homily, to explain the meaning of that gesture: «Jesus, just the day before being crucified, does this. Washing feet was the custom at that time because the streets were dusty, people came from outside and when they entered a house, before the banquet, the meeting, they washed their feet. But who washed the feet? Slaves, because it was slave labor. Let us imagine how amazed the disciples were when they saw that Jesus begins to make this gesture of a slave…». Yet he does it, «to make them understand the message of the day after that he would die as a slaveto pay the debt of all of us», Francis explains: «If we listened to these things of Jesus, life would be so beautiful because we would hasten to help each other, instead of cheating on each other, taking advantage of each other, as the smart ones teach us. It’s so nice to help each other, to shake hands: they are human, universal gestures, but they arise from a noble heart”.
As “Jesus today, with this celebration, wants to teach us this: the nobility of the heart”, Francis explained to girls and boys: «Each of us can say: “But if the Pope knew the things that I have inside…”. But Jesus knows them and he loves us just as we are, and he washes our feet. Jesus is never afraid of our weaknesses, he is never afraid because he has already paid, he alone wants to accompany us, he wants to take us by the hand so that life isn’t so hard for us”.
Therefore «I will do the same gesture of washing the feet, but it is not a folkloric thing, no. We think it is a gesture that announces how we must be, one with the other», Bergoglio continued: «In society we see how many people take advantage of others, how many people who are cornered and unable to get out. How many injustices, how many people out of work, how many people who work and get paid half price, how many people who don’t have the money to buy medicine, how many families destroyed, so many bad things… And none of us can say: “I thank God I’m not like that you know”…Any of us can slip, any of us. And this awareness, this certainty that each of us can slip is what gives us dignity – listen to the word: the “dignity” – of being sinners». So «Jesus wants us like this and for this he wanted to wash our feet and say: “I have come to save you, to serve you”. Now I will do the same as a reminder of what Jesus taught us: help one another. And so life is more beautiful and we can go on like this ».
After the celebration, the Pope blessed the inaugural plaque of the chapel, dedicated to Don Pino Puglisi. The director Maria Teresa Iuliano thanked him: «Thank you for the tenderness that brings you back to the essentials. Thank you on behalf of all for this wonderful poem that he gave us ».
Greeting the inmates, the pontiff received a wooden cross carved by the boys as a gift who follow the carpentry course plus some biscuits and a packet of pasta made in the recently opened pasta factory in the prison. To the young people, the director and the staff the Pope donated rosaries and chocolate eggs.