Eucharistic processions. Marian processions. Stations of the Cross. All involve traditional devotions that seek to bring faith beyond the church’s walls and into the public.

During Holy Week, two parishes in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Wilmington had a new, more unusual idea to get out into the community and bring Christ to those who may not always be looking for God.

So for the first time ever, the parishes of Sts. Peter and Paul and Holy Family hosted a public washing of the feet event on the morning of Holy Thursday at Wilmington Town Square Park.

Nearly 100 people attended the public event, where some 20 people had their feet washed by Father Claude Williams and Father Jacob Hsieh from Sts. Peter and Paul, and Pastor Ruben Rocha and Father Carlos Mesa from Holy Family.

The washing of the feet, which the Gospel of John recounts as Jesus Christ’s love, humility, and service to be used as an example for mankind, was more than just a symbolic gesture, Williams said.

“Having the foot-washing outside in a public space and on one of the busiest streets in Wilmington helps us to make visible a loving Savior who came not to be served but to serve,” said Williams, a Norbertine priest and pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul since 2021.

“One really beautiful byproduct of this being the first time that we observed this foot-washing ceremony outdoors and in public is that it allowed parishioners who are not regularly involved with planning liturgical celebrations to volunteer and get their feet wet, so to speak.”

Organizers sought to include people from all walks of life and in different situations. They included two women religious, Sister Ena Maguire and Sister Mary Glynn of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny; Nancy Kuria, principal of Sts. Peter and Paul School; elderly people; children and families who recently lost loved ones. Sister Maguire was the first to have her feet washed as a symbolic way of repaying the decades of ministry and service.

“Holy Thursday is a day for us to honor and reverence Jesus, who is mystically present in our neighbors, especially those who are most vulnerable and overlooked — the elderly, the grieving, those suffering economic hardships, and immigrants — just to name some groups of those who are marginalized from society at large, but very close to the heart of God,” Williams said.

Father Claude Williams, the pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, washes the feet of a child during a public Holy Thursday event at Wilmington Town Square Park on April 6. (Carson VanVooren)

Aida Cisneros’ brother Jose Sosa died on March 23 at the age of 31. Her mother got her feet washed as part of the event.

“For us, it was really holy and it was a sign to get even closer to God during this tough time in our family,” Cisneros said. “That was a very special moment, not just for my mother, but for all of us.”

Cisneros said she had never participated in a foot-washing before.

“I’ve been involved with the church and my kids went through Catholic school and this is the first time we’ve done this,” she said. “When my mom was asked, I just said this is a sign — a sign of having faith during this hard time.”

Preparations for the event were largely handled by laypeople from both parishes, including the Knights of Columbus, Knights of St. Peter Claver, students, and volunteers from both Holy Family and Sts. Peter and Paul. Volunteers brought pitchers from their homes to use in the foot-washing, towels, baked bread, and more, Williams said. At the event, the bread was blessed and distributed to those in attendance.

“I was struck by the fact that we had parishioners from both parishes in Wilmington come together. It was a good point of unity,” he said. “It was a way for Sts. Peter and Paul community to reach out to the whole Wilmington community, but especially to our Catholic neighbors who are so close that we don’t always see.”