Pope Francis breaks with tradition, includes women in foot washing ritual

The new pontiff ignored liturgical rules that restrict the Holy Thursday ritual to men

Published March 28, 2013 8:31PM (EDT)


As part of a Holy Thursday ritual, Pope Francis washed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome, including two young women. Some in the Catholic Church see the pontiff's decision to wash women's feet as symbolic break with male-dominated tradition, as current liturgical rules that restrict the ritual to men. Previous popes had only washed the feet of priests meant to represent Jesus' male disciples.

As the Associated Press reports:

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."

Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, calls the act "hugely significant," explaining that "including women in this part of the Holy Thursday Mass has been frowned on -- and even banned -- in some dioceses."

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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