Pope Francis was to preside over his first Good Friday after washing the feet of 12 young prisoners on Thursday, updating an ancient Easter ritual as part of his efforts to bring the Catholic Church closer to the needy.
The new pontiff was due to recite the Passion of Christ — the story of the last hours of Jesus’s life — in St Peter’s Basilica yesterday, before leading the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) ceremony by the Colosseum, where thousands of Christians are believed to have been killed in Roman times.
Francis, whose first days as pope have set a markedly different tone from his predecessor Benedict XVI, was expected to take part in the procession and even carry the wooden cross on his shoulder part of the way.
The new pope also held an unprecedented ceremony to mark Holy Thursday, washing and kissing inmates’ feet at a prison in Rome — the first time a pontiff had performed the ritual in a prison, and the first time it included women and Muslims.
“Whoever is the most high up must be at the service of others,” said Francis, 76, at the mass in the Casal del Marmo youth prison.
“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,” he said.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said many of the participants broke down in tears at the ceremony, which was open only to Vatican media.
Video footage from the ceremony showed the pope pouring water over the feet, bending down to kiss them and looking each of the 12 prisoners in the eye before moving on.
Lombardi said that while this was the first time a pope had washed women’s feet, Francis had performed this type of ceremony in his native Argentina many times before, including in jails, hospitals and old people’s homes.
In Jerusalem, hundreds of Christians streamed through the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City yesterday, hoisting wooden crosses and chanting prayers to mark the crucifixion of Jesus.
Throngs of pilgrims walked a traditional Good Friday procession that retraces Jesus’ steps along the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the “Way of Suffering.” They followed his 14 stations, saying a prayer at each and ending at the ancient Holy Sepulcher church.
Good Friday events started with a Mass earlier in the morning at the cavernous Holy Sepulcher, which was built on the place where tradition holds Jesus was crucified, briefly entombed and resurrected. Later yesterday, a Mass was due in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, built atop the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.