Pope washes feet of former mafia in prison during pre-Easter ritual

Pope washes feet of former mafia in prison during pre-Easter ritual

Pope Francis has washed the feet of more than a dozen inmates during his visit to an Italian high-security prison for former mafia members in a pre-Easter ritual to spread the message of hope and love.

The pope celebrated Holy Thursday Mass at the Paliano detention center, the only Italian prison dedicated to specifically housing mafia turncoats some 75 kilometers southeast of Rome.

Out of 70 inmates serving sentences at the facility, about 50 are former mafia members known as “collaborators of justice,” who are cooperating with authorities hoping to commute their sentences.

The prison holds mostly former members of Italy’s three notorious organized crime groups – the Cosa Nostra, the Camorra and the Ndrangheta – with many of the inmates serving lengthy terms.

As part of the mass, the pontiff bent to wash and kiss the right foot of 12 inmates in commemoration of Jesus’ gesture of humility towards his 12 apostles on the night before he was crucified.

Two of the inmates, who participated in the ceremony are serving life sentences while the remaining 10 are due to be released between 2019 and 2073.

According to the Vatican, three of the inmates were women and one was a born Muslim who had converted to Catholicism. The group consisted of 10 Italians, an Albanian and a prisoner from the pope’s homeland of Argentina, who had earlier written to him, as reported by Reuters.

It is the third Holy Thursday that Francis has spent at a detention center. He described his decision to continue to celebrate Holy Thursday with prisoners as “a duty which comes from my heart,” as reported by Vatican Radio.

With this move, Pope Francis has changed the tradition followed by his predecessors who held Holy Thursday Mass either at the Vatican or a Rome basilica and only washed the feet of Catholic men.

The pope said the ritual should be open to “all members of the people of God” and stressed the importance of going out to serve the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned.

“It is good for us to break out of our set ways, because it is proper to the heart of God to overflow with tenderness, with ever more to give,” the pope said in a tweet before arriving at Paliano prison.