The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis has decided to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass at a Center for Asylum Seekers some fifteen miles north of Rome, where he plans to wash the feet of twelve young refugees as part of the ceremony.
Instead of celebrating Mass in the Vatican, the Pope will travel to the welcome center in the town of Castelnuovo di Porto the afternoon of March 24th, where he will greet a number of the asylum seekers, many of whom are not Christians.
The President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, called the Pope’s gesture “a simple but eloquent sign” of humble service and concern for the plight of the migrants.
“We can understand the symbolic value intended by Pope Francis’ visit to the CARA in Castelnuovo di Porto and his bending down to wash the feet of refugees” – Archbishop Fisichella writes – “His actions mean to tell us that it is important to pay due attention to the weakest in this historic moment; that we are all called to restore their dignity without resorting to subterfuge. We are urged to look forward to Easter with the eyes of those who make of their faith a life lived in service to those whose faces bear signs of suffering and violence.”
As the Pope stoops to wash the feet of the refugees, Fisichella said, “he wants to tell us that it is necessary to pay due attention to the most vulnerable of this historic moment.”
“Many of these young people are not Catholic,” the archbishop noted, which makes the gesture “even more eloquent.”
“Washing the feet of refugees,” he said, “Pope Francis calls for respect for all of them.”
In his Palm Sunday homily, Pope Francis spoke of Jesus’ radical humility, living among us in “the condition of a servant” rather than that of a king or a prince, and the abyss of his humiliation “seems to be bottomless.”
He bent down to wash the feet of his disciples, laying aside his role as “Lord and Master” and preferring the position of a servant, Francis noted.
The Pope also compared Jesus to today’s migrants, saying that he experienced shame from religious and political authorities, who shuffled him around as nobody’s problem. “Pilate then sends him to Herod, who in turn sends him to the Roman governor,” Francis said, and “even as every form of justice is denied to him, Jesus also experiences in his own flesh indifference, since no one wishes to take responsibility for his fate.”
It was the Roman procurator Pilate, in fact, who famously washed his hands in full view of the crowds, refusing to be held accountable for the fate of Jesus. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
“And I think of the many people, so many outcasts, so many asylum seekers, so many refugees, all of those for whose fate no one wishes to take responsibility,” he said.
During 2015, Europe processed some 1.3 million asylum claims, of which 292,540 were approved as refugees. The majority came from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome