NEW POPE'S 'QUESTIONABLE' EXAMPLE / CELEBRATES TRIMMED EASTER VIGIL
UNPRECEDENTED ACT (AFP) — In what is considered as an unprecedented version of an ancient ritual, Pope Francis kisses the feet of a young detainee after washing them during a mass at the Church of the Casal del Marmo youth prison on the outskirts of Rome on Maundy Thursday in this handout picture released by the Vatican press office on March 28, 2013.
ROME (AP), APRIL 1, 2013 (MANILA BULLETIN) In his most significant break with tradition yet, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of two young women at a juvenile detention center – a surprising departure from church rules that restrict the Holy Thursday ritual to men.
No pope has ever washed the feet of a woman before, and Francis’ gesture sparked a debate among some conservatives and liturgical purists, who lamented he had set a “questionable example.” Liberals welcomed the move as a sign of greater inclusiveness in the church.
Speaking to the young offenders, including Muslims and Orthodox Christians, Francis said that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service.
At Your Service
“This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service,” Francis told the group, aged 14 to 21, at the Casal del Marmo detention facility in Rome.
“Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us,” the pope said. “This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service.”
In a video released by the Vatican, the 76-year-old Francis was shown kneeling on the stone floor as he poured water from a silver chalice over the feet of a dozen youths: black, white, male, female, even feet with tattoos. Then, after drying each one with a cotton towel, he bent over and kissed it.
Previous popes carried out the Holy Thursday rite in Rome’s grand St. John Lateran basilica, choosing 12 priests to represent the 12 apostles whose feet Christ washed during the Last Supper before his crucifixion.
Before he became pope, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio celebrated the ritual foot-washing in jails, hospitals or hospices – part of his ministry to the poorest and most marginalized of society. He often involved women.
Photographs show him washing the feet of a woman holding her newborn child in her arms.
That Francis would include women in his inaugural Holy Thursday Mass as pope was remarkable, however, given that current liturgical rules exclude women
Canon lawyer Edward Peters, who is an adviser to the Holy See’s top court, noted in a blog that the Congregation for Divine Worship sent a letter to bishops in 1988 making clear that “the washing of the feet of chosen men... represents the service and charity of Christ, who came ‘not to be served, but to serve.’”
While bishops have successfully petitioned Rome over the years for an exemption to allow women to participate, the rules on the issue are clear, Peters said.
“By disregarding his own law in this matter, Francis violates, of course, no divine directive,” Peters wrote. “What he does do, I fear, is set a questionable example.”
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he didn’t want to wade into a canonical dispute over the matter. However, he noted that in a “grand solemn celebration” of the rite, only men are included because Christ washed the feet of his 12 apostles, all of whom were male.
“Here, the rite was for a small, unique community made up also of women,” Lombardi wrote in an email. “Excluding the girls would have been inopportune in light of the simple aim of communicating a message of love to all, in a group that certainly didn’t include experts on liturgical rules.”
All-Embracing Christ Love
Others on the more liberal side of the debate welcomed the example Francis set. “The pope’s washing the feet of women is hugely significant because including women in this part of the Holy Thursday Mass has been frowned on – and even banned – in some dioceses,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of “The Jesuit Guide.” “It shows the all-embracing love of Christ, who ministered to all he met: man or woman, slave or free, Jew or Gentile.”
For some, restricting the rite to men is in line with the church’s restriction on ordaining women priests. Church teaching holds that only men should be ordained because Christ’s apostles were male.
“This is about the ordination of women, not about their feet,” wrote the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, a traditionalist blogger. Liberals “only care about the washing of the feet of women, because ultimately they want women to do the washing.”
Still, Francis has made clear he doesn’t favor ordaining women. In his 2011 book, “On Heaven and Earth,” then-Cardinal Bergoglio said there were solid theological reasons why the priesthood was reserved to men: “Because Jesus was a man.”
On this Holy Thursday, however, Francis had a simple message for the young inmates, whom he greeted one-by-one after the Mass, giving each an Easter egg.
“Don’t lose hope,” Francis said. “Understand? With hope you can always go on.” One young man then asked why he had come to visit them.
Francis responded that it was to “help me to be humble, as a bishop should be.” The gesture, he said, came “from my heart. Things from the heart don’t have an explanation.”
Pope presides over trimmed Easter Vigil service (philstar.com) | Updated March 31, 2013 - 8:00am
[POPE FRANCIS CARRIES PASCHAL CANDLE DURING SATURDAY EASTER VIGIL AT THE VATICAN]
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis celebrated a trimmed back Easter Vigil service Saturday after having reached out to Muslims and women during a Holy Week in which he began to put his mark on the Catholic Church.
Francis processed into a darkened and silent St. Peter's Basilica at the start of the service, in which the faithful recall the period between Christ's crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday.
One of the most dramatic moments of the Easter Vigil service that usually follows — when the pope would share the light of his candle with others until the entire basilica twinkled — was shortened this year as were some of the Old Testament readings.
The Vatican has said these provisions were in keeping with Francis' aim to not have his Masses go on too long. The Easter Vigil service under Benedict XVI would typically run nearly three hours. The new pope has made clear he prefers his Masses short and to the point: he was even caught checking his watch during his March 19 installation ceremony. Saturday was no different: The vigil ended just shy of 2.5 hours.
A trimmed-back vigil — and one that started earlier than usual — was just one of the novelties of this Holy Week under an Argentine Jesuit pope who just two weeks ago stunned the world by emerging from the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica after his election with a simple "Brothers and sisters, good evening."
He riled traditionalists but endeared himself to women and liberals by washing and kissing the feet of two young girls during a Holy Thursday Mass at a juvenile detention center in Rome, when the rite usually calls for only men to participate. A day later, Francis reached out with friendship to "Muslim brothers and sisters" during a Good Friday procession dedicated to the suffering of Christians from terrorism, war and religious fanaticism in the Middle East.
[VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 30: Clergy and the faithful gather as Pope Francis holds the Holy Saturday Easter vigil mass at St. Peter's Basilica on March 30, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Pope will lead Easter Sunday Mass celebrating the resurrection of Jesus tomorrow in St. Peter's Square. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images) Copyright © 2013 Getty Images. All rights reserved.]
In his homily Saturday, Francis kept his message simple and tied to the liturgical readings, recalling how Jesus' disciples found his tomb empty a day after his death and were surprised and confused.
"Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness, and that is where death is," he said. "Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life!"
He later baptized four men, part of the Easter Vigil ritual.
Just a few hours after the vigil ends, Francis on Sunday will celebrate Easter Mass and deliver his "Urbi et Orbi" speech, Latin for "To the city and the world." Usually the pope also issues Easter greetings in dozens of languages.
In his two weeks as pope, Francis' discomfort with speaking in any language other than Italian has become apparent. He has even shied away from speaking Spanish when the occasion would call for it, though the Vatican has said he has done so to avoid discriminating against other languages by favoring his native tongue.
Italian is the lingua franca of the Vatican and Francis has emphasized his role as bishop of Rome over that of pope of the universal church, making his use of Italian logical.
It's not clear how Francis will handle the multilingual greetings Sunday.
Typically, after the busy Easter week ceremonies, the pope would go to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo for a few days of vacation. Francis can't do that since the previous pope, Benedict XVI, is currently living there in retirement.
The Vatican has said Francis would stay put in the Vatican.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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