Pope Francis kisses the foot of a refugee during Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Center for Asylum Seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, about 15 miles north of Rome March 24. The Pope washed and kissed the feet of refugees, including Muslims, Hindus and Copts. CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout

Pope Francis denounces modern-day ‘Judases’ behind terror attacks

By  Josephine McKenna, Religion News Service
  • March 24, 2016

VATICAN CITY - As the death toll from the Brussels terror attacks rose on March 24, Pope Francis began three days of solemn observances leading to Easter Sunday by denouncing those who help fuel terrorism the way some once backed Judas against Jesus.

Washing the feet of a dozen migrants at an asylum centre north of Rome — some of them Muslims — Francis said his gesture was meant to show that we are “all brothers and children of the same God: we want to live together in peace.”

He then pointed to the terror attacks in the Belgian capital “by people who do not want to live in peace.”

“But behind that gesture,” he added, “just as behind Judas, there were others. Behind Judas” — the apostle who betrayed Jesus after the Last Supper that the Pope was reenacting — “there were those who gave the money so that Jesus would be handed over.”

“Behind ‘that’ gesture, there are manufacturers, arms dealers who want blood, not peace; they want war, not brotherhood. Two gestures, the same: Jesus washes the feet; Judas sold Jesus for money.”

“Gestures speak louder than pictures and words,” Francis said before washing and kissing the feet of the migrants, some of whom were moved to tears.

The highly symbolic Easter ritual commemorates the rite that Jesus practiced with his Apostles before his Crucifixion and the inclusion of women — as well as non-Catholics — has prompted much debate.

In a morning Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica to mark Holy Thursday, the pontiff said Jesus had fought not for his own glory but to break down walls “to open the flood gates of mercy … he wants to pour out upon our world.”

“The mercy of our God is infinite and indescribable,” Francis said. “We express the power of this mystery as an ‘ever greater’ mercy … advancing in that wasteland where indifference and violence have predominated.”

Francis sought to highlight the need for mercy, which is also the theme of the 2016 Jubilee Year that he launched in December.

“Mercy restores everything; it restores dignity to each person,” the Pope said.

Later Thursday, the Pope also washed the feet of 12 immigrants, including three Muslims and one Hindu, at a migrant reception center in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome. Eight of them were men and four were women.

The Reception Center for Asylum Seekers (CARA) houses nearly 900 people seeking asylum.
Speaking directly to thousands of priests at he earlier Mass, Francis urged them to stay close to the poor and marginalized.

“As priests we identify with people who are excluded, people the Lord saves,” he said. “We remind ourselves that there are countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them.”

Francis warned that priests themselves “are often blind” to those who are suffering, sometimes “because of an excess of complicated theology” or “because of an excessive ‘bubbly’ spirituality, a ‘light’ spirituality.”

“We feel ourselves also trapped, not so much by insurmountable stone walls or steel enclosures that affect many peoples, but rather by a digital, virtual worldliness that is opened and closed by a simple click,” he said.

“We are oppressed, not by threats and pressures, like so many poor people, but by the allure of a thousand commercial advertisements which we cannot shrug off … ”

During the service, known as the Chrism Mass, the Pope blessed sacred oils that will be used during the Easter vigil and other liturgical celebrations throughout the year.

Security has been stepped up across Italy and extra police will be on duty at the Vatican and at other popular tourist sites at the weekend as Europe continues to reel from the deadly bomb attacks in Belgium.

The death toll from the Brussels attacks by suspected Islamic extremists rose to 32 on Thursday, while 300 were injured, 60 seriously, according to media reports.

The papal foot-washing ritual on Thursday not only sent a signal open openness to refugees despite the violence, but also to women in the church.

Traditionally, the foot-washing by the pope — or any bishop or priest — had been performed on men.

But soon after his election in 2013, the Pope shocked conservatives by using the occasion to wash the feet of women, Muslims and Orthodox Christians at a prison in Rome.

In January, Francis formally changed the regulations to explicitly allow women and girls to participate.

Of the 12 in the group whose feet the pope washed, three were Coptic Christian women from Eritrea. The three Muslims were from Syria, Pakistan and Mali, and the Hindu was from India. The Catholics were from Nigeria.

Earlier this week Vatican official Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who is leading Francis’ Year of Mercy programs, said the Pope's choice of refugees was significant particularly due to the migration crisis engulfing Europe.

“We can understand the symbolic value intended by Francis,” Fisichella wrote in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

“His actions mean to tell us that it is important to pay due attention to the weakest in this historic moment; that we are all called to restore their dignity without resorting to subterfuge.

“By washing the feet of refugees, Francis implores respect for each one of them,” Fisichella said.

The Pope has spoken out many times in support of immigrants forced to flee war, famine and poverty and criticized what he calls “the globalization of indifference.”

Last year, in a historic address to Congress in Washington, he urged U.S. lawmakers to open their hearts to immigrants and allow them to share in the American dream.

It’s unclear whether his stance on migrants has made Francis more popular than any political world leader, but that is the finding of a new opinion poll.

The poll by WIN/Gallup International shows that the Pope is most popular with Catholics and Jews.

But more than half of the world’s Protestants and even the majority of atheists and agnostics view him favourably.

About 1,000 people were canvassed in 64 countries.

Comments (1)

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“Mercy restores everything; it restores dignity to each person,” the Pope said.

Will not restore to life the innocent people murdered by islam. Does not restore dignity to those sold into slavery by islam either. Kiss all the feet you want,...

“Mercy restores everything; it restores dignity to each person,” the Pope said.

Will not restore to life the innocent people murdered by islam. Does not restore dignity to those sold into slavery by islam either. Kiss all the feet you want, does not mean you will not be butchered next.

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