Pope to wash asylum-seekers' feet

Liturgy at migrant centre 'sign of service, attention'

(ANSA) - Vatican City, March 24 - Pope Francis prepared to wash the feet of eleven asylum seekers during the traditional "in coena Domini" Holy Thursday Mass at a migrant centre near Rome, demonstrating once again the centrality of the plight of migrants and refugees in his papacy. Three women and eight men living at the reception centre for asylum seekers (CARA) at Castelnuovo di Porto north of the capital and a young Italian woman who assists them have been chosen to take part in the Holy Thursday ritual re-enacting Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet at the Last Supper.
    The group is made up of three Muslims, one Hindu, three Coptic Christians and five Catholics (including the assistant).
    They are all waiting for their application for international protection to be processed by the Italian authorities and have been at the centre for between two months and two years.
    Almost all arrived in Italy by boat after making the dangerous sea crossing from north Africa. "It is a simple but eloquent gesture," said Monsignor Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation and coordinator of the Holy Jubilee Year. "Pope Francis will bend over and wash their feet as a sign of service and attention towards their condition." After the Mass Francis will also meet with three families of asylum-seekers living at the centre, including one originating in Palestine whose members span four generations.
    In total 892 people from 25 countries are currently living at the CARA at Castelnuovo di Porto.
    Of these, 849 are men, 36 are women and 7 are minors. Of the total 557 are Muslim, 333 are Christian and two are Hindu. Some 80% of the asylum seekers are aged between 19 and 26.