At his installation service, Pope Francis urged Roman Catholics around the world to serve “the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison.”
Today, the new pontiff chose to lead by example.
In an announcement from the Vatican, Pope Francis announced he will celebrate Holy Thursday with inmates at a juvenile prison in Rome, offering the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper and washing the feet of 12 inmates.
Traditionally, the Easter Triduum (or “three day” period leading up to Christ’s resurrection, beginning with the Last Supper and arrest of Jesus on Thursday) is celebrated at St John Lateran, which serves as the cathedral for the Bishop of Rome. Since Pope Francis has yet to formally take possession of the Lateran, the service was originally planned for the Vatican Basilica, prior to Pope Francis’ change of plan.
Such a service is nothing new for the new pontiff. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was known to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass in jails, in hospitals with HIV patients, or other locations where the poor or marginalized lived. “With the celebration at the Casal del Marmo [facility],” the Holy See said, “Pope Francis continues this practice, one that can only be characterized in a context of simplicity.”
By taking the Holy Thursday Mass to those behind bars, and by washing the feet of those seen by society as unworthy of forgiveness, Pope Francis reminds us that Christ’s love and mercy are for everyone, and that his very sacrifice on the cross frees us all from the captivity of sin and death. All Christians, regardless of denomination or tradition, would do well to take the pontiff’s message to heart as Holy Week approaches.