Our New Pope: Washing the Feet of Young Inmates on Holy Thursday

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

We have a new pope. His name is Francisco, or Francis. The Argentinian Jesuit took his name after St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Francis Xavier, one of his founding Jesuit predecessors.  (And might I stretch his Francis’ inspirations to include – *ahem* – our co-founder, St. Francis de Sales?) I think of these saints as a “trifecta of Francises,” if you will, who all exemplify and inspire a kind of humility and gentleness in the world.

I’ve been moved almost daily since the announcement of Pope Francis’ papacy by information characterizing his way of being as a priestly leader. “He rides the bus; he cooks for himself; he wears old shoes; he elected to forgo his cardinal apartment for a more modest dwelling;” and “the day of his introduction to the world, he elected not to stand on a box above his peers, as he wanted to convey that he is one of us.” These tidbits have all rolled around in my heart and mind, providing a delightful electrical charge to my prayer — my hopes for our church and its new leadership.

Today, I learned that one week from today, on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis will be washing the feet of young inmates in a juvenile detention center on the outskirts of Rome. And this information gives me one more jolt of inspiration. In lieu of a mass at the Basilica of St. Peter, where he would wash the feet of his peers, our new pope has taken a page out of the St. Francis of Assisi playbook — or perhaps the Jesuit or Salesian life texts — and is tending to the feet of those behind bars. Not unlike Christ’s invitation, he is taking his bread to the poor, his service to those on the margins — as he literally goes to feed those in prison.

It moves me, this break in tradition. Holy Week. The re-enactment of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The last supper. The pope. These young men of Casal del Marmo prison for minors.  Amen.

Where are you spending your Holy Thursday? What rituals are you participating in? Whose feet will you wash? Who will touch your soles? What bread will you consume? What will you offer to those around you? How might any one of our dear saint Francises inspire your living of the gospel in this day and age?

Blessings as we mark this holy season of the liturgical year!

Washing Feet: A Holy Contemplation

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

It’s Holy Week, and I’m trying to enter into this most sacred time with an empty heart, mind, spirit. But I tell you, it’s hectic. It’s hard to slow down and put away desire, to-do’s, and tune out the news. Yet, here I am. Trying.

Can you even try to fathom the feet of Peter or James or John or Judas? These weren’t nike-wearing brothers, were they?

In my coffee shop meditation, I slide away my cell phone, recognize my ice tea glass is empty, and savor the smell of fresh, hot garlic french fries – for just a minute more – as I try to make way for Holy Thursday’s scripture. As I tune my spirit to focus, I can see: I am like this glass in this moment: empty, cold, waiting to be filled. Yes!  I know the flavor of and satisfaction possible through meditation, if I just tune in; I can savor these biblical readings…..

From the USCCB’s website, where I go for online readings, I find “Holy Thursday: Evening Mass for the Lord’s Supper.”

I scan Exodus, I hum the psalm, (and hear my choir mate, Ann Shallbetter singing, “Our blessing-cup is a communion with the Blood of Christ.” ) I linger over St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, recognizing the heart of the mass present in Christ’s instructive prayer. I pause and hold on the central image in John’s gospel:

He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.

And now I am still.

A towel.

A basin of water.


Christ washing His disciples’ feet.

I want to be Christ’s hands. I want to wash those feet. I want to be a disciple. I want to know what it’s like to have Jesus pour water over me.

I think of this act literally. Fingers, hands, immersed in water, maybe soap, and then touching another’s skin. Ankles, toes, soles of feet. Are there callouses? Can you even try to fathom the feet of Peter or James or John or Judas? These weren’t nike-wearing brothers, were they? I don’t think so. Sandal-clad gents with exposed toes, me thinks. Dusty. A little salt and sand and dirt under the toe nails. Is it necessary that I go this far in my meditation? It’s where my brain takes me. I don’t push these images out, but let them carry me to this place, this room where He is.

I want to be Christ’s hands. I want to wash those feet. I want to be a disciple. I want to know what it’s like to have Jesus pour water over me.

It’s humbling, this exercise of prayer and imagination. For a minute I’m in Jerusalem, it’s warm, and I’m a robe-and-sandal-sporting fellow present in Christ’s company (far removed from this Grand Avenue, St. Paul coffee shop.) I am seated. I am in awe at what I’m witnessing. My heart is on fire with a desire to do just this: serve. I marvel at this man, my friend, Jesus, who has gotten down to clean our feet.

Who does such a thing? A mother? A nurse? Someone whose ego allows such a bowed, bent stance?

I will carry this feeling of awe, humility and desire with me this day. I will pray that the proximity afforded me in my imaginings of Christ will keep me near Him in his journey to the garden, to Golgotha, the cross and to the tomb. I will pray that my Easter journey be aligned beyond this week’s holy re-enactments and continue to inspire my work as a Lover, Follower, Teacher, Visitation Companion.

Will you join me in this prayer?

Happy Holy Thursday!


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A Prayer for Holy Week: 2010