On the occasion of Holy Thursday, April 14, 2022, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 male and female inmates in the prison of Civitavecchia, a port city in the Lazio region. He spoke to them about the practice of bribery in the public administration. He also invited them to ask for forgiveness for the “skeletons hidden in [their] closets.”
According to a statement issued by the Holy See after the celebration, the pontiff left the Vatican at around 3pm, arriving an hour later at the prison complex located on the Mediterranean coast, some 80 kilometers north of Rome.
In the chapel, in the presence of inmates, prison police officers, prison staff, and the Italian Minister of Justice, Marta Cartabia, the Pope celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, commemorating the last meal of Jesus with his apostles.
Commenting on the Gospel of Holy Thursday, the Pope stressed how “strange” it was that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, including Judas, “the traitor, the one who betrayed him.” With this gesture, Christ teaches that “we serve one another, without expecting a return,” he said.
The bribery scandal
From this prison, which opened in 1992 and houses some 500 inmates, the Argentine pontiff blasted the scandal of bribes in public administrations. “This is not good,” he responded, noting that this attitude could extend to everyone: “In life, we seek our own interest, as if we were taking bribes from each other.”
Serving extends to forgiveness, the Bishop of Rome continued, affirming that “God forgives everything and God always forgives!” And he encouraged prisoners to ask “forgiveness from Jesus” for all the “skeletons hidden in [their] closets.” God is indeed a special judge who judges and forgives, “I would like to us all to take that to heart today,” he concluded.
At the end of his homily, the Pope performed the ritual gesture of this liturgy: he washed and kissed the feet of 12 prisoners, men and women, of various ages and nationalities. “This is a sign that means ‘I judge no one. I seek to be the servant of all,'” he explained.
A garden cultivated by the inmates
At the end of the celebration, the prisoners offered him a print of the ancient port of Civitavecchia and products from their garden. The head of the Catholic Church also met with about 50 people, inmates and guards, in a room at the prison.
Since his election in 2013, Francis has chosen to depart from tradition and not celebratethe Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. John Lateran, the cathedral in Rome, as his predecessors did. He has visited detention centers several times: in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019. In 2020, there was no washing of the feet because of the health crisis and in 2021, he celebrated the Last Supper with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, in disgrace after his resignation and now at the center of a major financial trial in the Vatican.
Before him, Pope John Paul II paid a pastoral visit to the former penitentiary of Civitavecchia on March 19, 1987.