Almost every year since being elected Pope Francis has gone to a prison to wash the feet of inmates to remind us of the importance of serving others.
Just one verse each day.
Throughout his pontificate Pope Francis has incessantly called to care for those who are lonely and forgotten and marginalized by society and the world. The Pontiff has especially turned his words into action on Holy Thursday, where almost every year since he has been elected he has gone to a detention center in Rome to wash the feet of inmates of all ages, genders, nationality, and religions. Francis echoes and reflects Jesus’ humble gesture towards his disciples and encourages us to do the same in our lives.
Here are some of Pope Francis’ Holy Thursday suggestions, to help us be of service to others this Easter, whether they be our family members, work colleagues, or strangers!
1Don’t serve others expecting something in return
During Holy Thursday in 2022 Pope Francis shed light on how we live our relations almost like commercial transactions. “Many times in life [we] seek our own interest, as if we charged each other a fee,” the Pontiff said. He added that letting our own interest prevail is like letting a “snake” enter our relationships.
“It is important rather, to do everything without interest: one serves the other, one is the other’s brother, one makes the other grow, one encourages the other, and that is how we must make things progress,” he explained.
2Take a risk, even for those who do not wish you well
“Service: there really are people who do not accept this attitude, arrogant people, odious people, people who perhaps do not wish us well; but we are called to serve them all the more,” Pope Francis said during his 2018 homily on Holy Thursday.
He acknowledged that it is difficult to serve those who are against us, but Jesus gave us an example to follow. “Understand this: Jesus is called Jesus; he is not called Pontius Pilate. Jesus does not know how to wash his hands of people: he only knows how to take a risk! Look at this beautiful image: Jesus bent down among the thorns, risking to hurt himself by picking up the lost sheep.”
To really underline this point, later in the mass, during the exchange of peace, Pope Francis asked the inmates “in silence” to “think of those who do not love us and also of those whom we do not love and also — rather, indeed — of those against whom we would like to avenge ourselves.” Then he added “let us ask the Lord, in silence, for the grace to give everyone, good and bad, the gift of peace.”
3Look beyond the differences of religion or status
Two days before Holy Thursday in 2016, 32 people died and hundreds more were injured in the capital of Belgium, Brussels, due to a terrorist attack perpetrated by extremists from the Islamic State. In response Pope Francis washed the feet of refugees of all nationalities and religions in a camp in Rome to recall that we are all brothers and sisters and can serve one another for peace.
“All of us, together: Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals, but brothers and sisters, children of the same God, who want to live in peace, integrated,” he emphasized. A couple of days ago “an act of war, of destruction in a European city,” occurred “by people who do not want to live in peace.”
“Today, at this moment, as I perform the same act as Jesus by washing the feet of you twelve, we are all engaged in the act of brotherhood, and we are all saying: “We are diverse, we are different, we have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and sisters and we want to live in peace”,” the Pontiff stated.
4To serve others we need remember that God loved and purified us first
“Jesus’ love for us knows no limits: always more and more. He never tires of loving anyone. He loves us all, to the point of giving his life for us,” the Pope said during his 2015 homily on Holy Thursday. Pointing to the inmates he was addressing he said that Jesus “gave his life for you, for you, for you, for you, for me, for him.” “His love is like that: personal. Jesus’ love never disappoints, because He never tires of loving,” the Pontiff insisted.
In fact before washing the feet of the prisoners he said “in our hearts we must be certain, we must be sure that, when the Lord washes our feet, He washes us entirely, He purifies us, He lets us feel His love yet again.” Only then can we become “a better slave at the service of the people, as Jesus was.”
5Have the simple, humble heart of a child
In his 2019 homily for Holy Thursday Pope, Francis recalled the moment in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 9) where the disciples are discussing amongst themselves who is the greatest and Jesus says that it is a “child.”
“If your heart is not a childlike heart, you will not be my disciples,” Pope Francis said, citing the Gospel, and calling us to have “a childlike heart, simple, humble but a servant.”
In fact the Pope continued that to be the greatest and to be able to serve, we must place ourselves in the last position. “Serve one another, be brothers in service, not in ambition, as one who dominates others or who oppresses others, no. […] Fraternity is humble, always,” he said.
6 Serve others because that is what God has taught us
During Holy Thursday in 2013 Pope Francis washed the feet of inmates for the first time during his pontificate. However, a significant aspect was that these prisoners were minors. He reminded them to always follow what God has taught us, even when it may be difficult and we may not understand.
“This is moving. Jesus, washing the feet of his disciples. Peter didn’t understand it at all, so he refused. But Jesus explained it for him. Jesus – God – did this!,” the Pope said. Washing one another’s feet, “what does this mean? That all of us must help one another. Sometimes I am angry with someone or other … but… let it go, let it go, and if he or she asks you for a favor, do it.”
Francis also emphasized that he tries to also follow his own advice to fulfill his function as Pontiff and Bishop. “Help one another: this is what Jesus teaches us and this is what I am doing, and doing with all my heart, because it is my duty. As a priest and a bishop, I must be at your service. […] I love this and I love to do it because that is what the Lord has taught me to do.”
7Go from being the greatest to the smallest
During his homily on Holy Thursday in 2017 Pope Francis explained to the inmates whose feet he would wash why he was there and insists on repeating this gesture of humility every year.
“Today, as I was arriving, there were many people on the street who were hailing [my arrival]; “the Pope is coming, the boss. The head of the Church…”. The head of the Church is Jesus, no joking around! The Pope represents Jesus and I would like to do the same as He did,” Francis explained.
“There is a reversal of roles. The one who appears to be the greatest must do the work of the slave in order to sow love; to sow love among us. I do not say to you today to go and wash each other’s feet. That would be a joke. But the symbol, the example, yes: I would say that if you can offer some help, provide a service here in prison to your companion, do so.”
8Remember to forgive and ask for forgiveness
In 2020, Pope Francis gave his homily on Holy Thursday in St. Peter’s Basilica as Italy was in the middle of a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pontiff explained that Jesus washing his apostles’ feet reminds us that we all need to be “washed clean” of our sins to be able to serve others. In his homily he addressed priests specifically, but his words can be useful for all.
“Do not be stubborn like Peter. Let your feet be washed. The Lord is your servant, he is close to you, and he gives you strength to wash the feet of others,” the Argentine pontiff emphasized.
“Conscious of the need to be washed clean, you will be great dispensers of forgiveness. Forgive! Have a big heart that is generous in forgiving. This is the measure by which we will be judged,” the Pope said. “Be courageous, also in taking risks, in forgiving, in order to bring consolation. And if you cannot give sacramental pardon at this moment, then at least give the consolation of a brother to those you accompany, leaving the door open for people to return.”