Pope Francis washed the feet of prisoners on Thursday as he celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a prison outside Rome.
The pope offered the Mass on April 14 in Civitavecchia, a port city around 50 miles northwest of Rome. Local media reported that he arrived at the prison at about 4 p.m. Rome time in a white Fiat 500L.
The Holy See press office said that the pope preached in the prison chapel on the day’s Gospel reading (John 13:1-15), which describes how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.
In an off-the-cuff homily, Pope Francis described Christ’s action as “a strange thing” in this world: “Jesus washing the feet of the traitor, the one who sells him.”
He said: “Jesus teaches us this, simply: among you, you must wash each other’s feet [...] one serves the other, without interest: how beautiful it would be if this could be done every day and to all people.”
The pope said that Jesus calls his betrayer ”friend,” waiting for him until the end, forgiving everything.
”God forgives everything and God always forgives! It is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness,” he commented.
Each one of us, the pope added, has something that we have been carrying in our heart for a long time, ”but ask Jesus for forgiveness.”
”There is a Lord who judges, but it is a strange judgment: the Lord judges and forgives,” he said, urging those present to follow the Lord’s example with ”the will to serve and forgive each other.”
After the homily, the pope washed the feet of 12 inmates, representing the disciples. The Holy See press office noted that they were “men and women, including people of different ages and nationalities.”
The Mass, which was not live-streamed, continued a custom that Pope Francis introduced in 2013, shortly after his election, of celebrating the Holy Thursday liturgy in a prison or juvenile detention center.
After visiting the Casal del Marmo youth detention center in 2013, he presided at Holy Thursday Masses at a center for the disabled in 2014, Rebibbia New Complex Prison in 2015, a center for asylum seekers in 2016, Paliano prison in 2017, Rome’s historic Regina Coeli prison in 2018, and Velletri men’s prison in 2019.
In 2020, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the pope offered the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica. The feet washing was omitted as a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Pope Francis celebrated the Holy Thursday Mass privately in the chapel of Cardinal Angelo Becciu’s private apartment in 2021, months after the Italian cardinal resigned as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals.
The last pope to make an official visit to Civitavecchia, which has a population of around 53,000, was reportedly John Paul II, who toured the port and the local Torrevaldaliga Nord coal-fired power plant in 1987.
In an address to prisoners in Civitavecchia, the Polish pope noted that the city had not received a papal visit since 1868, when Pius IX traveled there.
Pope Francis began Thursday by celebrating a Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica attended by around 2,500 people.
The Holy See press office said that at the end of the Mass in Civitavecchia, the director of the prison thanked the pope for his visit and presented him with a print of the ancient port, products from the garden grown by the inmates, and works made by staff and inmates.
The pope then went to an interview room where he greeted about 50 people representing the inmates, officers, and staff of the prison, the press office said. Afterward, he returned to his Vatican residence.