ROME: Pope Francis on Thursday washed and kissed the feet of refugees, including three Muslim men, and condemned arms makers as partly responsible for militant attacks that killed at least 31 people in Brussels.
He made his comments at a traditional pre-Easter ritual. This year 11 of the 12 people whose feet he washed and kissed were refugees. The ceremony commemorates Jesus’ gesture of humility towards his apostles on the night before he died.
“All of us together, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals, but brothers, children of the same God, who want to live in peace, integrated,” he said in unscripted comments at a shelter north of Rome that houses refugees seeking political asylum.
“Three days ago, there was a gesture of war, of destruction, in a city of Europe by people who don’t want to live in peace,” he said.
“Behind that gesture there were arms manufacturers, arms traffickers, who want blood, not peace, who want war, not brotherhood,” he said.
In a reference to the Brussels attackers, Francis condemned “those poor creatures who buy weapons in order to destroy brotherhood,” comparing them to Judas Iscariot, the apostle who the Bible says betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
Before Francis became pope, the ceremony was held in St Peter’s or another Rome basilica and only included Catholic men, usually priests.
But after his election in 2013, he continued the tradition he started as archbishop of Buenos Aires, enabling women and non-Catholics to participate. Catholic conservatives have criticized him for breaking with tradition.
The refugees came from Mali, Nigeria, Eritrea, India, Syria and Pakistan. The four women in the group were three Coptic Christians from Eritrea and an Italian Catholic who works at the shelter, which is home to about 900 asylum seekers.
“Each one of you, each in your religious language, let’s pray to the Lord so that this brotherhood is contagious in the world,” he said.
He brought chocolate Easter eggs, soccer balls, and donations for the center.
The pope presides at two services on Good Friday, including a candlelight Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession around Rome’s Colosseum.
He leads an Easter vigil service on Saturday and on Easter Sunday he delivers his twice-yearly “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing and message from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica.