In a period of time when increased anti-Muslim sentiments prevail due to the incessant attacks on European cities, Pope Francis has displayed a gesture of welcome and brotherhood which sharply contrasted with the gesture of war and destruction committed days back in Brussels, Belgium.
The Pope had celebrated the traditional Easter Week foot-washing ceremony at a refugee shelter in Castelnuovo di Porto, outside Rome, inaugurating the most solemn period of the Catholic Church’s Easter season.
Pope Francis on Thursday washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Christian and Hindu refugees and declared them all children of the same God, even as he denounced the Brussels carnage as a “gesture of war” carried out by blood-thirsty people beholden to the weapons industry.
The Holy Thursday rite re-enacts the foot-washing ritual Jesus performed on his apostles before being crucified, and is meant as a gesture of service.
The Pope was received with a banner reading “Welcome” in a variety of languages as he processed down a makeshift aisle to celebrate the outdoor Mass.
A fraction of the 892 asylum-seekers currently living at the shelter attended, though others milled around nearby and filmed the event on their smartphones.
Those picked for this Easter ritual were four Nigerian Catholics, three Eritrean Coptic women, three Muslims from Mali, Pakistan and Syria and a Hindu Indian, as well as an Italian worker from the centre.
“We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace,” the pontiff said in his homily, delivered off-the-cuff in the windy courtyard of the center.