In a special rite commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of 11 Muslim, Christian and Hindu asylum-seekers Thursday and declared them all children of the same Father.
The Holy Thursday ritual re-enacts Jesus washing his apostles’ feet before being crucified, and is meant as a gesture of service. Francis contrasted that gesture with the “gesture of war” carried out by the Brussels attackers on Monday.
Instead of celebrating Mass in the Vatican as usual, the Pope traveled to the welcome center in the town of Castelnuovo di Porto, where he greeted the asylum-seekers, many of whom are not Christians.
The Pope told them that Jesus’ gesture of service stood in sharp contrast to Judas’ gesture of betrayal, which the Pope likened to the brutal jihadist attacks.
In denouncing the attacks, the Pope said its perpetrators wanted to destroy the brotherhood of humanity.
Pope Francis knelt and washed the feet of four Catholics from Nigeria, three Eritrean women who are Coptic Christians, three Muslims from Mali, Syria and Pakistan, a Hindu man from India and an Italian woman who works at the center. Several migrants wept as Francis knelt before them, poured water from a brass pitcher over their feet, wiped them clean and kissed them.
“We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace,” Francis said in his homily, delivered in the courtyard of the welcome center.
“All of us, together: Muslims, Hindi, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals. But brothers, children of the same God,” he said. “We want to live in peace, integrated.”
In his Palm Sunday homily earlier this week, the Pope 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 Jesus had been shuffled around as nobody’s problem. “Pilate then sends him to Herod, who in turn sends him to the Roman governor,” Francis said, and “no one wishes to take responsibility for his fate.”
“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.