“I am a sinner like you”

Pope Francis at the washing of the feet © Divione Produzione Fotografica

Pope Francis opened Easter celebrations in Rome with a Holy Thursday service in a Roman prison. In the afternoon, he celebrated the commemoration of Jesus' Last Supper in the Roman prison Regina Coeli.

Echoing a gesture of humility Jesus made to his disciples, he washed the feet of 12 inmates during the service. In the process, the pope explained that Jesus reversed the established orders of precedence: "Whoever wants to be a boss should serve others."Such a stance is definitely associated with risks. But had kings and rulers done this more courageously, "how many wars would not have taken place," says the Pope. Jesus did not wash his hands in innocence like Pilate, but knelt down and washed the feet of others. "I am a sinner like you," the pope continued, "but today I represent Jesus among you and kneel down to wash your feet like Him.With this he wants to tell them: "Christ never leaves you, he never tires of forgiving you"."

The twelve men, selected by prison chaplain Vittorio Trani, are from Italy and six other countries. Most are Catholics, two Muslims, one Orthodox Christian and one Buddhist. The visit of the Pope had begun in the infirmary of the prison, before in the centrally located rotunda of the institution followed the service with the washing of the feet. At the end of the visit, the pope plans to meet some inmates of Department VIII; among others, sex offenders are imprisoned there.

Rome's oldest prison

Before Francis, John Paul II had already. in the year 2000, Paul VI. 1964 and John XXIII. Visited the prison in the Trastevere district not far from the Vatican in 1958, but not on Holy Thursday. Regina Coeli is the oldest prison in Rome. She took the name "Queen of Heaven" from a 17th-century convent for women. This is the kind of thing that the Italian state should have done at the end of the 19th century. Converted the church into a detention center at the end of the nineteenth century.

In its current form, the prison has a total capacity of 750 places. Like many institutions in the country, however, Regina Coeli is also constantly overcrowded. Pope Benedict XVI also had this grievance. Criticized in 2011 during his visit to Rebibbia, Rome's new, larger prison.

Lunch with priests

Before visiting the prison, Francis had lunch with ten Roman priests. The meeting took place, as in previous years, in the apartment of Archbishop Angelo Becciu of the Curia, the Vatican newspaper "Osservatore Romano" reported. The pastors would have reported to the pope about their work and exchanged views with him about it. In the end, the pope told them to always seek the closeness of God and of people. They should also make sure that poor people feel at home in a parish community.

The pope's lunch with priests from Rome on Holy Thursday has become a tradition. In the morning, the Pope celebrated the Chrism Mass with many priests in St. Peter's Basilica. At the same time, he consecrates the holy oils that the church uses for consecrations and sacraments throughout the year. In his sermon, Francis had also demanded from his priests closeness to the people.

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