Holy Thursday: A reminder to serve humanity

Pope Francis promotes inter faith harmony and performs ritual on twelve prisoners.

Naeem Sahoutara April 04, 2015
Pope Francis washes the feet of a dozen inmates for Holy Thursday at Rebibbia prison in Rome. PHOTO: AFP


On the Holy Thursday of the Lent, twelve clergies sat in two rows in the front of the altar table in the St Jude’s Parish under the large cross. All twelve clergies were aged 50 or above and wore crisp casual dresses with their pants folded above their ankles.

A Catholic senior priest adorned in a full white gown, kneeled before them on the ground to perform a rare ritual of the Maundy or Holy Thursday of the Lent. The priest made a sign of the cross over water mixed with the fresh red rose petals. One by one as the clergies reluctantly moved their feet towards him, he washed their feet and then kissed them.

The ritual took place in all the Catholic churches across the country, as is done in the rest of the world.  “Holy Thursday’s most significant event is washing and kissing the feet of the clergies,” explained parish assistant Shehzad Masin.

“Jesus Christ had washed the feet of his twelve disciples after he had the Last Supper a day before the crucifixion,” the Reverend Father Saleh Diego said while explaining the ritual to The Express Tribune. “He did this to show humbleness and convey the sense that he was serving mankind.”

At St Jude’s Parish, the fragrance of fresh roses filled the air, mixing with the choir as it presented the psalms and hymns. The worshipers sat on benches, forming two rows. Above their heads hung religious portraits depicting the fourteen significant events that took place as Jesus Christ carried his wooden cross to the place of the crucifixion.

Hundreds of mile away, Pope Francis also performed the same ritual but with a twist. Instead of performing it on clergies, according to Catholic leaders, he performed the ritual on 12 prisoners — all of them Muslims, save for a television showgirl.

Many Christians see the pontiff’s move as extremely significant in light of recent and ongoing developments across the world, particularly conflicts based on religion.

“The teachings of the Christianity and the Jesus Christ are to serve humanity, and this ritual is a living example of it,” said Father Saleh Diego, who is also the director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace. “Catholic priests are very busy during Lent and cannot spare time to visit prisons to the do same,” he added while explaining that it was not obligatory to perform the ritual only on clergies.

“Pope Francis’s move of choosing Muslims to perform this ritual is, no doubt, very significant for the entire world.”

Some Protestant Christian sects also observe Holy Thursday in the same manner as Catholics.

“Washing the feet on the Holy Thursday is not necessary. The sacred sacrament is the Holy Communion, not the ritual of washing and kissing the feet,” Anglican Pastor Shahid Masih told The Express Tribune.

“Since, it was not declared as a mandatory religious ritual by the Jesus Christ, therefore, it’s up to the people how they do it. Some Protestants also perform this ritual. But, there can be other ways to show respect to humanity,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2015.


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