Muslim girl takes part in washing ceremony

Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 young offenders including a Muslim girl at a Rome jail in an unusual take on a traditional Easter ritual by Latin America’s first pontiff.

Francis celebrated his first Holy Thursday Mass as Pope in the Casal del Marmo youth prison on the outskirts of Rome rather than a traditional basilica in the city centre, a move seen as another sign of his less formal style.

Prison ombudsman Angiolo Marroni said that out of the 12 young inmates — a number chosen to commemorate Jesus’s apostles — there was also two girls, one Italian Catholic and one of Serbian Muslim origin.

The washing of the feet is a gesture of humility based on the belief that Jesus washed the feet of his apostles on the evening of their final meal together before his death, the Last Supper.

Local chaplain Gaetano Greco told Vatican radio he hoped the ritual would be “a positive sign in their lives”, adding: “There is no better way to show his service for the smallest, for the least fortunate.”

Catholic traditionalists are likely to be riled by the inclusion of women in the ceremony because of the belief that all of Jesus’s disciples were male.

Earlier, the 76-year-old Argentinian pontiff told priests at a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica to stop their “soul-searching” and “introspection”.

“We need to go out... to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness, that longs for sight and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters,” he said.

He said the holy oil used to ordain priests was meant “for the edges” of society — “for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are in sorrow and alone”.

He has called for the Church, which has been shaken by multiple scandals in recent years, to be more open and socially active as he begins his pontificate.

Today, Francis will recite the Passion of Christ — the story of the last hours of Jesus’s life — in St Peter’s Basilica, before presiding over the Via Crucis — Way of the Cross — ceremony by the Colosseum, where thousands of Christians are believed to have been martyred in Roman times.


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