Pope washes feet of asylum seekers

Holy Thursday Mass draws attention to plight of refugees

(ANSA) - Rome, March 24 - Pope Francis washed the feet of 11 asylum seekers and a reception-centre staffer on Holy Thursday, repeating the humble act Jesus performed on his disciples at the Last Supper.
    During his homily at the Mass preceding the ceremony near Rome, Francis said the mercenary greed of arms traffickers was behind the bloody March 22 Islamist terror attacks in Brussels.
    The pope's decision to wash refugees' feet demonstrated 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 were chosen to take part in the Holy Thursday ritual.
    The group was made up of three Muslims, one Hindu, three Coptic Christians and five Catholics (including the staffer).
    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. "Behind the act of war and destruction in a European city...there were others...the arms manufacturers and traffickers," Francis said in his homily. In the same way, those behind Judas paid him 30 pieces of silver to turn Jesus over, Francis said.
    He pointed to two contrasting actions to drive home the importance of believing in peace and brotherhood.
    "All of us here together - Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals - are all brothers and children of the same God who want to be integrated and live in peace: one action," he said.
    "Three days ago an act of war and destruction in a European city was carried out by people who do not want to live in peace - but behind that act as behind Judas there were others...the arms manufacturers and traffickers who want blood not peace, war not brotherhood". Francis went on to explain the significance of his act of washing the feet of asylum seekers as Jesus washed his disciples' feet.
    "In this moment when I will carry out the same act as Jesus in washing your feet, we are all of us together making an act of brotherhood and we all say: 'we are diverse, we have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace'".
    "May each in his own tongue pray the lord so that this brotherhood becomes contagious in the world, so that there will no longer be 30 pieces of silver to kill one's brother, so that brotherhood and goodness will always remain".
    Francis then washed the feet of the 11 refugees and the staffer at the CARA.
    When he washed the feet of CARA staffer Angela Ferri, the only Italian in the group, the woman murmured 'Mamma', recalling her mother who died a few days ago.
    "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," he said earlier. After the Mass Francis met 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.