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!