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Pope Francis Washes the Feet of 12 Female Prison Inmates

ROME — Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 women inmates at a Roman prison Thursday evening, the first time any pope included no men in the Holy Thursday ritual.

The Church’s practice of washing the feet of 12 people is intended as a commemoration of the moment at the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the 12 apostles before commissioning them as priests to celebrate the Eucharist, according to Catholic belief.

On Thursday the pontiff traveled to Rome’s Rebibbia women’s prison where, seated in a wheelchair, he washed and kissed the feet of 12 female inmates, many of whom wept with emotion.

In his homily to the inmates and prison staff, the pope said that in washing his apostles’ feet, Jesus humbled himself, making us understand the depth of his words “The son of man has not come to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45).

Pope Francis presides over the ritual of the washing of the feet during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the women’s section of Rebibbia prison in Rome on March 28, 2024 in Rome, Italy. (Vatican Media via Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

Francis also commented on the betrayal of Judas who succumbed to “money and selfishness, which led him to this ugly thing,” in reference to his handing Jesus over to the chief priests for the sum of 30 pieces of silver.

“But Jesus forgives everything. Jesus always forgives. He only asks that we ask for forgiveness,” he added.

“We all have our small failures, our big failures; everyone has his own story,” he said. “But the Lord is always waiting for us, with open arms, and never tires of forgiving.”

Pope Francis arrives at the women’s section of Rebibbia prison in Rome for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on March 28, 2024 in Rome, Italy. (Vatican Media via Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

The feet-washing ceremony was instituted by Pope Saint Gregory the Great in the sixth century but later fell out of use. It was revived by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

Pope Francis was the first pope to include women in the ritual, washing the feet of two young women along with 10 males in a Rome youth prison on Holy Thursday in 2013.

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