The National Catholic Review

“We are Muslims, Hindus, Copts, Evangelicals and Catholics, but we are all brothers and children of the same God who want to live in peace, integrated.” That is what Pope Francis told hundreds of asylum seekers at a center 25 miles from Rome, where he went on March 24 to draw the world's attention to the dramatic plight of refugees and migrants in Europe and elsewhere.

He spoke briefly, without text at the Holy Thursday celebration held under a tent, before kneeling down and washing the feet of 12 of them—8 men and 4 women. Eleven of them were young migrants from six countries, including four Nigerian Catholic men, three Coptic women from Eritrea (two with babies in their arms), three young Muslim men—from Syria, Pakistan and Mali—and a young Hindu man from India. The twelfth was a young Italian woman who works at the center.

“Gestures speak louder than words or images,” the 79-year old pontiff said after they had all listened to the Gospel account in which Jesus washes the feet of the apostles. “We heard of two gestures in that Gospel [story],” he told them: first, “Jesus who serves and washes the feet of the twelve, and he is the leader” and, second, “Judas who goes to the enemies of Jesus who do not want peace, and who give him money.”

“Today too there are two gestures,” the pope said. “The first, here, all together, all brothers, Muslims, Hindus, Copts, Evangelicals and Catholics, all children of the same God, who want to live in peace.” The second, “three days ago, a gesture of war, of destruction, in a city of Europe, by people who do not want to live in peace.” But behind that gesture, as behind Judas, there were others.

He recalled that “behind Judas there were those who had paid him to hand over Jesus to them.” And behind that other gesture, “there are the makers and traffickers in arms, who want war not brotherhood.”

He repeated again, “there were two gestures: Jesus washed the feet, Judas sold Jesus for money.”

Francis told the refugees, “You, we, are from different religions and cultures, but we are all children of the same Father, and brothers.”  But “there are also those poor ones who buy arms to destroy brotherhood.”

Today, he told them, “When I do the same gesture as Jesus who washed the feet of the twelve, when I wash your feet, then all of us together are doing a gesture of peace. We are brothers and we want to live in peace. That’s the gesture I will do.”

Looking at them he said, “All of you have a story of so much suffering, but you also have a heart that is open, that wants brotherhood and peace.” And so, he said, “let us all together, each in their own religious language, pray to God and ask for brotherhood, peace and goodness”

Many showed signs of profound emotion as he knelt down and washed their feet, some reached down to touch him, others wept, while hundreds looked on. After washing each one’s feet, he looked up and smiled, and when he came to the women with babies in their arms, he reached up and touched the newborns.

After Mass, he thanked them for this beautiful moment, and said, "Let us remember, it is good to live together as brothers, with our cultures and traditions. And this has a name: peace and love." Then to their great delight, he went among the hundreds of migrants present and shook the hand of each and every one of them.   He also greeted an Iman from a nearby Muslim community in Rome.

His gesture was indeed powerful, more striking than words. It came a time of high tension in Europe not only because of the migrant and refugee crisis, the greatest humanitarian crisis to hit this continent since World War II as hundreds of thousands flee war and poverty, but also because of the violence that has spilled over from the conflicts in the Middle East and has already covered two major European cities in blood. 

Pope Francis is doing everything in his power to promote solidarity, dialogue and peace. His visit to this asylum center, home to almost 900 migrants, is timely and a much needed gesture of humanity at this turbulent moment in history where political forces are stirring up emotions in an opposite direction. 


Bruce Snowden | 3/26/2016 - 7:55am

What's a Sacrament? Our Church says, "A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give Grace." The Church recognizes Seven "outward Signs instituted by Christ to give Grace," but I suggest there are many more external actions by Christ that could be "sacramented" because intrinsically they already are, and all it would take to do so, is a word, or deed by a Pope acting as Vicar of Spokesperson of Christ, a ministry already in effect as "Holder of the Keys" acknowledging it by exercising his charisma of infallibility. Pope Francis could solemnly declare Holy Thursday's Mandatum a Sacrament open to all as is Baptism in any of its three forms. At least so it seems to me.

William Rydberg | 3/26/2016 - 10:53am

Bruce- I once had a conversation with a coworker who was a Missouri Synod Lutheran whose response to the Pope's "Power of the Keys" was why didn't he just use them?

Lot's of discussion points with this move by the Pope, I expect that America Magazine Editors have anticipated questions like these and thought this stuff through. Looking forward with interest to future scholarly articles on the Subject. Though I don't see a post-modern Editorial position as useful when it comes to an inevitable shift back to Traditional Apologetics. Yet another topic for discussion at the upcoming GC36...

in The Risen Christ,

Brendan Kelleher | 3/25/2016 - 5:38am

When I read the negative, questioning comment on this years commemoration of the Mandatum by Pope Francis, I sensed an animosity against the Jesuits, and a failure to place the actions of the Pope in the wider historical context of how the Church has responded to the Mandatum over the centuries. To rehearse just the history would take up more space than necessary, so I'll just recall that the Mandatum is mentioned twice in the Rule of St Benedict, 35.1-14, 53.1-15. The Benedictine tradition of hospitality would seem to offer a line of interpretation that would justify washing the feet of others than male Catholic believers, and questions as to whether it is appropriate to wash the feet of non-Christians. Last year saw the publication of a very informative and interesting book by Thomas O'Loughlin, "Washing Feet - Imitating the Example of Jesus in the Liturgy Today", (The Liturgical Press, 2015) that covers most of the problem points brought up by those who 'have problems.' Though there is a strong enough tradition to consider it a sacramental, the history of the Mandatum as part of the Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord's Supper is quite chequered. O'Loughlin offers examples of some reasons why there is a reluctance to commemorate the Mandatum, though substantial theological reasons are hard to find. Pope Francis isn't breaking any rules set in stone, but rather offering a creative and I would say, prophetic example of how the receive the tradition of the Mandatum. Some will find this challenging, but surely not because he seems to be "breaking the rules", but because he is calling us to a fuller living out of the Gospel.

William Rydberg | 3/25/2016 - 9:03am

Brendan: From Holy Thursday Gospel reading: "...“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him,
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him,
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all.”
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”....."

Are we authoritatively certain it's a "sacramental" ? Personally speaking, it's a determination above my pay grade...

I thought that St Benedict like St Francis were holy to the Lord, but never achieved the Fullness of the Priesthood in their lifetimes? Perhaps scholars might reasonably question their Liturgical expertise/authority because it wasn't their areas of expertise. Interesting point though...

And if one occasionally challenges writers in this magazine makes one in your opinion "negative" on them (all Jesuits everywhere) I suppose using the same logic, one might also include the Benedictines and Franciscans now. Specious reasoning in my opinion. Though most of the folks I have opined on in the past are not members of the Society of Jesus, but rather contributors to America Magazine drawn from largely diverse backgrounds. In fact, many are not necessarily coreligionists.

Fr John A. Hardon S.J, friend of The Trinity, pray for us,

Just my opinion...

in The Risen Christ,

William Rydberg | 3/24/2016 - 5:33pm

I look forward to his Theological reasoning as Teacher & Supreme Pontiff, after all this has happened before and the Vatican Pope App News announced it before it happened. I can appreciate the human interest angle. But am curious what Pope Francis thinks about the absolute necessity of the Sacrament of Baptism as a gateway to the Church. Could this action be suggestive of the emergence of a hitherto unknown eighth Sacrament that parallels the effects of the Sacrament of Baptism for the unBaptized? Can an unbaptized person for example, access the rest of the Sacraments? Would Saving Faith be necessary in this circumstance if the person has attained the age of reason?

After the Pope does this action, would Baptism be necessary for the unbaptized. Is it practically ex opere operato, kinda like the effect of Extreme Unction in certain circumstances? One would expect that an authoritative communication from the relevant Vatican Dicastry is pending.

Interesting things to come, does America Magazine (Jesuits) have a draft Theological position? I am only guessing, but there just might need to be some significant updates to Theological texts about Sacramental Theology...

I pray that this does not turn out to be a "jump the shark" moment for Pope Francis' Papacy.

There's got to be a higher Theological Reason why Pope Francis is doing this little Liturgy outside of Mass. He has never struck me as a Showman.

Archbishop Fisichella, President of the Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization has mentioned something that he calls the "royal road to peace"? Presumably those who are unbaptized in in other religions, would only see the gesture detached from the preaching of the Gospel? Without that Gospel context, the gesture must be strange to the participants. Don't know what the "royal road of peace means"? Anybody?

in The Risen Christ,

Blessed be the Holy Trinity...

Ana Vago | 3/24/2016 - 6:26pm

The symbolic washing of the feet is not a sacrament. It is a symbolic act that reflects the teachings of Jesus and the gospels. Jesus did not reject people because of their birth or family heritage. Jesus washed the feet of people who were not baptized in the Roman Catholic church. They were Jews. He did a lot of things that reflected the great commandments - to love- and against the man-made rules of the religious leaders.. So he conversed with a Samaritan woman and dined with tax collectors. In the parable of the "good Samaritan" he makes a rather big point of the fact that the Jews did not always follow the commandments to love as well as some others were, not Jews, not among the "chosen people".

If you believe baptism is a requirement, then there is also something called "baptism of desire" - for those who seek God and God's will, who desire to do God's will, but who were not baptized in the Roman Catholic church. God provides a way for all.

Don't you think that those whose feet are washed by the Pope might be very attracted to a religion whose greatest teachings are love? Some might want to read the gospels to learn more about Jesus, and about christianity.

William Rydberg | 3/24/2016 - 10:31pm

Ana: With respect, There are lots of opinions out there, I was hoping for answers to very big questions that impact the Church in a very big way in my opinion.

I think that the Hindu person might be surprised to learn that he/she is now also a Catholic...

Not sure if you are a coreligionist, but it might be helpful if you were to review the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in particular the Intro to the Sacraments, for a partial context:

I am by no stretch an expert, but I do know that an additional 8th Sacrament is a big change...

in The Risen Christ,

Blessed Tridiuum everyone...

Ana Vago | 3/25/2016 - 9:22pm

Mr. Rydberg,

Where on earth are you getting the idea that Francis is inventing an 8th sacrament?

I have no idea what you mean by the comment about a Hindu thinking he is Catholic. What the pope is teaching is that the Hindu, just like everyone else in the world, is God's child. He is teaching that Jesus taught love - God's love for us, and the commandment that we love others as well as God and ourselves. Love, Mr. Rydberg! Paul got the message - Corinthians, 13:2. This should be something you already know - God loves everyone - not just baptized Roman Catholics!

You say you are not an expert, yet you seem to put yourself out as one, criticizing every writer on this site. Many of them ARE theologians, or have other advanced degrees in such things as ecclesiology or biblical scholarship etc.

You question what so many write, yet you say you are not an expert, and they are.

I have taken a lot of courses in theology, philosophy, and scripture studies. Mostly as an undergrad, but some at the graduate level. I never got a degree in any of those areas. I don't have any problem using the mind our generous God gave me and everyone else but I don't hold myself out as an expert, qualified to judge others, much less the pope. But I do read and pray and reflect and sometimes I agree with those whose articles or books I read, and sometimes I don't. But I would never thinking of carping at them all, just because I have a different opinion.

Do you not realize that it is a bit insulting to suggest that everyone with whom you have a difference of opinion is somehow not a "co-religionist". I assume you mean a Roman Catholic. I have now read many of your comments on this site, and there is almost never a positive word, only criticisms of almost every article or writer that you read, and most of the criticisms include the the "co-religionist" bit. Many Catholics are either not very knowledgeable about church teachings, church history, about the hierarchy of truths or development of doctrine and so some Catholics seem not to understand that Catholics do not agree on every single interpretation of scripture. Never have and never will. This is obvious after only a little bit of study, especially of Catholic history. How many "heretics" were later canonized?

Reading the catechism, with which I am thoroughly familiar and I'm sure others are also, does not really suffice in trying to live as Jesus modeled. Suggesting reading the catechism as the primary source seems to be popular with some who don't actually read the gospels themselves, but wait for someone else (in a clerical collar in Rome) to tell them what it means. That's backwards. People should read and study what Christ taught before worrying about a book of Vaticanese that attempts to explain in way too many words what is right there in the scriptures for all to read. Catechisms come and go, catechisms change because the catechism is man-made.. But what Jesus taught doesn't change. It sure can be thought-provoking, and that's what we supposed to do. Read it, and think on it, and wrestle with it, and pray on it, and reflect on it, and not simply be passive little vessels reading the catechism and assuming it holds all "truth". It has some. but Jesus' has all.

Sometimes when I find myself being constantly negative, constantly finding fault with other people, constantly assuming that my understanding is the only "right" understanding, I realize it's time to do a serious examination of conscience, even if I don't really want to. What I want is to be right! With nobody saying otherwise.. When I get onto my own high horse, becoming critical of everyone who doesn't affirm my brilliance and insight, it's usually time for an attitude adjustment. Try to open your mind. Maybe just shelve the catechism, and just read the gospels?

To suggest that Francis, by emulating Jesus' and following his command to Love, is creating an 8th sacrament is more than a bit of a stretch.

Why are some people so intent on destroying the beauty of what he is doing? It's beautiful because it reflects Gods love.

It's Good Friday. Good day for some self-reflection and examination of conscience for ALL of us.

Let it go - and have a Happy Easter. It's in God's hands. TRUST!