Pope washes feet of disabled, including elderly Muslim

SYMBOL OF SERVICE. Pope Francis (L) kisses the foot of a man as he performs the traditional 'Washing of the Feet' during a visit at a center for disabled people as part of Holy Week on April 17, 2014 in Rome. Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

SYMBOL OF SERVICE. Pope Francis (L) kisses the foot of a man as he performs the traditional 'Washing of the Feet' during a visit at a center for disabled people as part of Holy Week on April 17, 2014 in Rome.

Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

ROME, Italy – Pope Francis washed the feet of a dozen elderly and disabled people, including a Libyan Muslim, during a Holy Week ritual in Rome on Thursday, April 17, imitating Jesus Christ's humility.

The 77-year-old bent down with difficulty to wash and kiss the feet of the 9 Italians and 3 foreigners aged between 16 and 86 years old at the Don Carlo Gnocchi foundation's Santa Maria della Provvidenza center.

Francis arrived in a Ford Focus to cheers from crowds and stopped to speak with elderly and disabled people gathered at the center's modern Church in Rome's suburbs, before picking up a silver urn of water and a white towel, and kneeling in front of the chosen 12.

"The slaves performed this, the servants at the meals for the people who came to dine, because at that time, the streets were made of dirt and when they entered in a house, it was necessary to wash one's feet," the Pope explained.

"And Jesus performed this action – a work, a service of a slave, of a servant. And this he leaves like an inheritance among us. We must be servants of each other," he said.

The youngest to have his feet washed at the ceremony, which is part of the run-up to Easter Sunday, was 16-year-old Osvaldinho from Cape Verde, who is wheelchair-bound after damaging his spine diving into the sea last summer.

Angelica, 86, who fell and broke her hip last year, was the oldest – along with artisan Pietro, who suffers from muscular problems and poor balance.

Among the others was 75-year-old Hamed, a Libyan Muslim who worked for years for the Italian-Arab chamber of commerce, before a road accident left him with serious neurological damage.

Francis has often shown particular attention to disabled people and the elderly, condemning a "hidden euthanasia" in modern societies against the old.

Shortly after his election last year, Francis visited a youth detention center where he performed the washing of feet ritual on a group of young inmates – including two Muslims, the first Catholic leader ever to do so. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com