Pope Francis has made quite an impression on the international community especially the billion of so faithful during his short time as Pope with his official duties starting with Holy Week. With his most significant break from tradition occurring on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of young women at a juvenile detention center which for most in the Curia is a departure from the strict rules that ritual involves men not women. In fact, no pope has ever washed the feet of women sparking a debate among conservative who feel it a questionable example and liberals who welcome the inclusivity. As Francis explained to the group of 14 to 21 year old at Casal del Marmo in Rome: “This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service. Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service.” A video released by the Vatican, demonstrates the 76 year old Francis kneeling on the stone floor pouring water over the feet of the youth then drying and kissing their feet. The group included black, white, male, female, and even tattooed feet.
Previous popes carried out the traditional ceremony in Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica choosing 12 priests who represent the 12 apostles whose feet Christ washed during the Last Supper, but Francis has never followed the traditions even as cardinal. Before being pope, the pope as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio celebrated in jails, hospitals, or hospices as part of his ministry to the poor and marginalized in society especially women. Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, didn’t want to enter into a canonical dispute over the matter but did express that the ritual represent only men as Christ washed the feet of his apostles were all male. As the Associated Press reported, Lombardi wrote in an email saying, “Here, the rite was for a small, unique community made up also of women. Excluding the girls would have been inopportune in light of the simple aim of communicating a message of love to all, in a group that certainly didn’t include experts on liturgical rules.” Some believe the message was about Christ’s embracing love and ministering to everyone, while other believe that restricting the rite to men is in line with the church’s restriction on ordaining women since Christ’s apostles were male and that the ritual is more than washing feet. The ultimate message Pope Francis had for his young audience whom he greeted after the mass and gave each an Esster egg was, “Don’t lose hope. Understand? With hope you can always go on.” One young man asked the pontiff why he came to visit them and Francis responded simply that it was to “help me to be humble, as a bishop should be” as the gesture came “from my heart. Things from the heart don’t have an explanation.”
Pope Francis ended Holy week with his first Easter Sunday celebration with a passionate plea for world peace to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 250,000 people who came to see him in St. Peter’s Square. In his Easter message, he spoke of the long standing conflict in the Middle East, on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere and remembered the world’s neediest people. With physical gestures, he demonstrated his down to earth caring for all God’s children as he cradled a disabled child held out to him and delightedly accepted the gift the Associated Press reports. After the mass, the Pontiff took a ride through St. Peter’s Square in an open topped popemobile through the joyous crowd, kissing children, patting them on the head and overwhelmed with joy. The pope received a gift from one admirer in crowd who gave him a jersey of his favorite Argentine soccer team, Saints of San Lorenzo, as the crowd cheered in approval. In a moving moment to remember, Francis cradled and kissed a disabled boy passed to him waiting patiently for the boy to give his greeting to him.
From the same spot he was introduced as pope on March 13, Francis gave his Easter speech from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica reiterating his concern for the poor and suffering as well as promoting peace and social justice. The Roman Catholic leader aimed the Easter greeting at “every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons” and prayed that Jesus would inspire people to “change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace,” reports the Associated Press. The first pontiff from the Jesuits, an order with concern for the poor, and the first pope to name himself after St. Francis who renounced wealth and preached to the down and out lamented that the world is still divided by greed. The square was covered in a beautiful variety of flowers as Francis thanked florists from the Netherlands for donating them and advised people to let love transform their lives saying, “let those desert places in our hearts bloom.” Francis used the language of the Holy See to give his greetings in Italian as the pope stressed his role as the Bishop of Rome. The pontiff improvised his parting words to the world including those who were present and those linked by modern technology adding that he especially remembers “the weakest and the neediest” and praying that all of humanity be guided along “the paths of justice, love and peace.” Another departure from Easter Tradition, Francis will not be taking a post holiday vacation at the summer palace in Castel Gandolfo where Benedict XVI resides and has declined moving into Benedict’s former apartment in the Apostolic Palace which overlooks St. Peter’s Square instead he still resides in the Vatican hotel where the cardinals stayed during the conclave. Francis has demonstrated so far in his short time as Bishop of Rome that he has little desire to participate in the pomp and pageantry that comes with his position as the leader of the Catholic Church.