Pope Francis Kisses the Feet of Prisoners

Prisoners Feet kissed by Pope Francis

Last year, Pope Francis broke with tradition to hold a major Easter Week service at Casal del Marmo young offenders’ prison in Rome, telling fifty inmates: “I’m happy to be with you. Don’t give up hope.”  The Pope then washed and kissed the feet of twelve young prisoners; some were Gypsies or North African migrants, and were not necessarily Catholic.

Vatican Radio carried the Mass live.  Pope Francis told the detainees that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service

“This is a symbol, it is a sign – washing your feet means I am at your service,” Francis told the youngsters. “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.”

Later, the Vatican released a limited video of the ritual, showing Francis washing black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos.


A Modern Day Parable: Stepping Into Boston’s Shoes

My name is Boston.  I got that nickname because I used to wear red socks when I wore suits to the office.  No office, no suits, and no matching socks for me these days.  A few years back, I got myself into a few fixes… and since then I’ve been of “no fixed address.”

The wind blew me into a familiar doorway. I poked my head into the warm air. The local church center was humming with people. Some were sitting, some standing, and others kneeling.  The air was a mix of the soup of the day and the odors of many yesterdays.  No one saw me right away, but what I saw and heard was like a welcome sign: good humor and tenderness. 

I watched for a moment; worn street feet disappeared into plastic basins filled with warm water and anti-bacterial soap. Smiles bubbled up all around. I could see disinfectant, skin lotion, massage oil, nail clippers, latex gloves, and all sorts of supplies at each foot-washing station.  The line of people waiting was long. I entered in at the back of the line and joked that it wasn’t just the “soup kitchen,” but the “soap kitchen” now. 

When it was my turn, I sat, pulled up my pant legs and took off my tattered shoes. In my heart, I felt buck-naked—exposed. My socks were a mess of holes and gave off an unholy stink.  Not a pretty picture: cracked heels from days on cement and nights on cardboard, calluses that were living proof of life’s wrong rubs. The broken blister on my crooked toe looked red, but at least it had stopped gushing.  My long toenails were brownish yellow and some of them hurt.  The big toe on my left foot still felt wooden from last month’s incident with frostbite.  I hadn’t known my feet were so badly off…

Recent stories of my vagabond life came pouring out of my mouth.  The warm soapy water and the tender washing eased some of the painful details to the surface.  The woman doing the washing was careful, diligently scrubbing and nodding as she listened.  She dried my feet on a soft towel. Everything that could be removed was and everything else was absorbed. She dumped the dark water down the drain, returning with a clean cotton cloth, fragrant oil, and giant nail clippers. 

Once broken, now breaking—my feet shed the inner tears that long-sought pampering provokes.  She continued until she achieved a baby-softness; a semblance of trimmed health remained.  She looked at her work with pride and then met my eyes with a glow.  She put the fresh socks on me and I felt cotton like I had never felt cotton before. (I asked for the red ones!)

She walked with me over to the boxes of donated shoes and boots. I sat again to get fitted.  Luxury hath no bounds.  Then she prayed. More tears, hers and mine. Mid-life, I experienced a fresh start. I wondered why she did this for me. I knew that my walk and something else inside, at least for the day, had changed. 


© 2013 Teresa Sandhu. All rights reserved

This was previously published in Little Trinity Print. It is reprinted with permission of Little Trinity Church, Toronto Ontario.