Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of two young women at the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention facility in Rome, a surprising move that marked the first time that the pope has ever washed the feet of a woman before. Church rules usually restrict the Holy Thursday ritual to men. Although some conservatives and liturgical purists think that Franics set a "questionable example,” liberals were pleased with the move.
While speaking to the youths, including Muslims and Orthodox Christians, Francis said that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service. "This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service," Francis told the group. "Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service."
In a video of the ritual released by the Vatican, 76-year-old Francis is seen kissing the feet of a dozen youths aged 14-21: black, white, male, female, even feet with tattoos.
Canon lawyer Edward Peters noted in a blog that the Congregation for Divine Worship sent a letter to bishops in 1988 making clear that "the washing of the feet of chosen men ... represents the service and charity of Christ, who came 'not to be served, but to serve.'"
Peters wrote: "By disregarding his own law in this matter, Francis violates, of course, no divine directive. What he does do, I fear, is set a questionable example."
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi didn't want to wade into a dispute over the matter, reports ABC News.
"Here, the rite was for a small, unique community made up also of women," Lombardi wrote in an email. "Excluding the girls would have been inopportune in light of the simple aim of communicating a message of love to all, in a group that certainly didn't include experts on liturgical rules."