That simple act of humility sent a powerful message to the world.
Since that time, Pope Francis has done other things that by themselves may seem of little consequence and, yet, they are both substantial and influential in their meaning.
As Easter neared for the Christian world, Francis performed another act that could have resounding implications across the globe. The Holy Thursday ceremony commemorates the humility of Christ at the last supper when he is believed to have washed the feet of his 12 apostles.
Normally the rite is held in a basilica in the center of
Even more significant was the cleansing of the feet of two women and two Muslims.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine another world leader of similar magnitude performing any ritual of a similar nature. Therein lies the power of the pope’s message.
Though it was the first time a pope has washed a woman’s feet, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi stated that Francis had performed similar services many times in prisons, hospitals and retirement homes in his home country of
At the mass Francis explained his purpose saying, “Whoever is most high up must be at the service of others.”
The pope went on to say, “I do this with all my heart because it is my duty as a priest, as a bishop. I have to be at your service. I love doing it because this is what the Lord has taught me.”
By taking his message directly to the people, Francis is demonstrating through deeds rather than words the philosophy he wishes to convey. As the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, the pope speaks for more than a billion Christians.
Yet the simple, humble act of washing and kissing the feet of Muslims could begin to break down barriers that have existed between Christians and Muslims for nearly 15 centuries.
It is almost incomprehensible to believe that such a small amount of compassion could have such a dramatic outcome, but consider the seemingly minor events of a similar nature in
It began at the St. Nicholas Church in
At first, like the washing of the feet, the sessions speared to be harmless and regarded as little more than non-violent prayer meetings. Soon the youth of church decided to hold programs every Monday instead. Each day the church was decorated with flowers and each night it was filled by the light of glowing candles.
As participation grew, the authorities became increasingly concerned because the church could no accommodate the throngs of people in attendance. Militia was sent in to attack defenseless people in the streets. Many demonstrators were arrested and taken away in trucks or locked up in stables, but they remained passive throughout the ordeal.
Finally, one evening when more than two thousand people in the church filed out to the street they were greeted by several thousand others in the square. They all held candles as their symbol of peace. To carry a candle outdoors one hand must hold it while the other must shield it from the wind. In so doing, there is no way to carry a weapon.
When police arrived to put down the violence, there was no rioting to stop. Though law enforcement surrounded the crowds, they did not know how to respond because of the peaceful nature of the demonstration. Eventually the police withdrew and not long after the
As one officer later remarked, “We were prepared for everything. Everything, that is, except candlelight.”
During this season of Easter, one has to wonder if another gesture as unique, simple and seemingly insignificant as washing and kissing the feet of someone who is regarded as your enemy can have the same impact over time as those who prayed in
Has the new pope in his sincerity and humility begun a movement that not only speaks to Christians but can also bring discourse, unity and peace to diverse and contrasting beliefs?
Pope Francis I may well be the candle the world has been seeking.
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