On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis will spend time in Castelnuovo di Porto with young refugees who are hosted by the Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers, known as the Centro di Accoglienza per Richiedenti Asilo, or CARA. The simple but eloquent visit will include the celebration of the Rite of the Washing of Feet. The Pope will stoop to wash the feet of 12 refugees as a sign of service and attention to their situation.
During the Jubilee Audience held on Saturday, 12 March, in speaking about the act of the washing of feet, Pope Francis stated: “By washing the feet of the Apostles, Jesus wished to reveal God’s mode of action in regard to us, and to give an example of his ‘new commandment’ (Jn 13:34) to love one another as He has loved us, that is, laying down his life for us”. Delving deeper, he added that love “is thepractical service that we offer to others. Love is not a word, it is a deed, a service; humble service, hidden and silent”. Indeed, “it is expressed in thesharing of material goods, so that no one be left in need”. It is, moreover, “the lifestyle that God suggests, even to non-Christians, as the authentic path of humanity.”
In light of these considerations we can understand the symbolic value intended by Pope Francis’ visit to the CARA in Castelnuovo di Porto and his bending down to wash the feet ofrefugees. His actions mean to tell us that it is important to pay due attention to the weakest in this historic moment; that we are all called to restore their dignity without resorting to subterfuge. We are urged to look forward to Easter with the eyes of those who make of their faith a life lived in service to those whose faces bear signs of suffering and violence.
Many of these young people are not Catholic. Therefore this gesture by Pope Francis takes on even more eloquence. It points to respect as the royal road to peace. Respect means being aware that there is another person beside me. A person who walks with me, suffers with me, rejoices with me. A person whom, one day, I may one day lean on for support. By washing the feet of refugees, Pope Francis implores respect for each one of them.