Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a prison in the suburbs of Rome Thursday, urging the inmates to reflect on how they can treat each other with servants’ hearts.
“It is true that in life there are problems: we quarrel among ourselves,” the pope said April 18, “but this must be a thing that passes, a passing thing, because in our hearts there must always be this love of serving the other, of being at the service of the other.”
“This is the rule of Jesus and the rule of the Gospel,” he said, “the rule of service, not of dominating, of doing evil, of humiliating others. Service.”
Recalling the moment when Jesus’ apostles were arguing among themselves about who was the most important, Pope Francis said: “Jesus took a child and said, ‘The child. If your heart is not a child’s heart, you will not be my disciples.’ The heart of a child – simple, humble, but a servant.”
Pope Francis said the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Velletri men’s prison, located about one hour south of the Vatican on the outskirts of Rome.
This was the fifth time in his pontificate Pope Francis celebrated Maundy Thursday Mass at a prison. The first was in 2013, just after becoming pope, when he visited the Casal del Marmo youth detention center.
Subsequent Maundy Thursday Masses have been held at the historic Regina Coeli prison, a center for asylum seekers, Rebibbia prison, and Paliano prison.
In 2014, the pope said Mass at the Don Gnocchi center for the disabled.
After his brief homily, Francis washed the feet of 12 prisoners: one Moroccan, one Ivorian, one Brazilian, and nine Italians. After washing the men’s feet, he kissed each one.
In his homily, the pope explained that Jesus’ gesture of washing the feet of his disciples was that of a servant, because at the time, streets were not paved, and people’s feet would get covered in dust.
Therefore, when they entered a house to visit or share a meal, a servant would wash the feet of the guest, he said. “And Jesus makes this gesture: he washes their feet. He makes the servant’s gesture: He, who had all the power, He, who was the Lord.”
Francis emphasized what happens next in the Gospel: that Jesus turns to his disciples and advises them to do the same to each other.
“In other words, serve one another, be brothers in service, not in ambition, as someone who dominates the other or who tramples on the other, no, be brothers in service,” he urged. “Do you need something, a service? I’ll do it for you.”
This is what real fraternity is like, he said, explaining that the Church asks the bishop to imitate Jesus in the washing of the feet every year on Holy Thursday.
This is because, he said, “the bishop is not the most important, but must be the best servant.”