Vatican City, 2 April 2015 (VIS) – This afternoon Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass “in Coena Domini” in Rome's Rebibbia penitentiary, where he arrived around 5.15 p.m. He greeted the authorities, staff and a group of detainees in the prison courtyard. Shortly before 6 p.m., in the “Padre Nostro” church in the New Complex of Rebibbia, the Pope presided at the Holy Mass that begins the Easter Triduum, during which he washed the feet of twelve detainees, six men and six women from the nearby women's penitentiary.
In his improvised homily, the Pope remarked that on a Thursday like today, Jesus was at the table with His disciples, celebrating the feast of the Passover. “The Gospel reading we have just heard contains a phrase which is precisely at the centre of what Jesus did for all of us: 'having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end'. Jesus loved us. Jesus loves us. Without limits, always, to the end. … And each one of us can say, 'He gave His life for me'. … For everyone, name and surname. This is how His love is: personal. Jesus' love never disappoints, as He never tires of loving, just as He never tires of forgiving, of embracing us. This is the first thing I wanted to say to you: Jesus loved us, each one of us, unto the end”.
“And then, he does what the disciples did not understand: washing their feet. In that time, it was a custom, as when people arrived at a house their feet were dirty from the dust of the road. … But the master of the house did not do this. It was a task for the slaves. And Jesus, like a slave, washes our feet, the feet of His disciples, and therefore says to Peter: 'What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterwards you will understand'. So great is Jesus' love that He made Himself into a slave to serve us, to heal us, to cleanse us”.
“And today, in this Mass, the Church wishes for her priest to wash the feet of twelve people, in memory of the Twelve Apostles. But in our hearts we must be sure that the Lord, when He washes our feet, washes us entirely, He purifies us, He lets us feel His love once more. In the Bible there is a beautiful phrase, from the prophet Isaiah: 'Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you'. This is what God's love for us is like”.
“And today”, he concluded, “I will wash the feet of twelve of you, but all of you, all people, are in these brothers and sisters. You represent them. But I too need to be washed by the Lord, and therefore pray during this Mass that the Lord may wash away my impurities, so that I may become more of a slave than you, more of a slave in the service of the people, as Jesus was”.