“The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” Romans 14:18-19

For several decades the Roman Catholic Pope would follow in Christ’s footsteps on Maundy Thursday by washing the feet of 12 priests in one of Rome’s great basilicas. The current pope, Pope Francis, has continued this tradition with a twist. Each year Pope Francis visits places of confinement (prisons, refugee centers, nursing homes, centers for those with disabilities, etc.) in order to bring this ancient ritual of service and grace to life.

In 2016, Pope Francis went to a facility on the outskirts of town where people from around the world were hoping and waiting to be granted asylum in Rome. There, 12 people, eight men and four women, from a variety of different countries and faith backgrounds (Muslim, Coptic, Hindu, etc.) agreed to allow Pope Francis to wash their feet.

After washing their feet the pope said, “You, we, all of us together, of different religions, different cultures, but children of the same Father…Today, at this time, when I do the same act of Jesus washing the feet of twelve of you, let us all make a gesture of brotherhood, and let us all say: ‘We are different, we have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace.”

The pope’s actions and words demonstrate beautiful truths. When we serve someone we release the desire to control them. When we serve someone we lay foundational blocks for compassion and understanding. When we serve someone we affirm their humanity and their inherent connection to the divine. When we serve someone we proclaim that Christ first served us.

Last year, Pope Francis washed the feet of prisoners and said to them, “Jesus serves us today, here in [this prison]. Jesus risks himself for each person. Jesus does not know how to wash his hands of people. He knows how to risk, for his name is Jesus…Before giving us himself in his body and blood, Jesus risked himself for each one of us—risked himself in service—because he loves us so much.”

“Faithful God, may we risk as you risked. May we serve as you served. May we love as you loved. Amen”