A different kind of Easter: new pope washes the feet of Muslims
Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 young offenders including two girls and two Muslims at a Rome prison on Thursday in an unprecedented version of an ancient Easter ritual, seen as part of efforts to bring the Catholic Church closer to those in need.
Pope Francis prepared for his first Good Friday observances culminating in a torch-lit procession at Rome’s Colosseum and prayers for peace in a Middle East "torn apart by injustice and conflicts".
"Whoever is the most high up must be at the service of others," Francis said at the mass in the Casal del Marmo youth prison.
The meditations read out during the procession were written by a group of Lebanese young people chosen by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai.
"Come, Holy Spirit, to console and strengthen Christians, especially those from the Middle East so that, united in Christ, they may be witnesses of your universal love in an area torn apart by injustice and conflicts," reads one of the prayers.
Another refers to the conflicts "which in our days devastate various countries in the Middle East".
"Let us pray that the displaced and the forced migrants may soon return to their homes and lands."
The Vatican has been concerned over the fate of Christian minorities in many parts of the Middle East amid a rise in radical Islam, as well as calling for an end to conflict in the region.
Good Friday is the second of four intensive days in the Christian calendar culminating in Easter Sunday, which commemorates Christ's resurrection and is the holiest day for Christian believers.
On Sunday the Vatican's first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years will celebrate Easter mass in front of tens of thousands of pilgrims in St Peter's Square and then pronounce the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” blessing to Rome and the world.
Francis has already broken with several Vatican traditions, although he is yet to begin tackling the many problems assailing the Roman Catholic Church including reform of the scandal-ridden Vatican bureaucracy and bank.
The former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was known in Argentina for his strong social advocacy during his homeland's devastating economic crisis, his own humble lifestyle and his outreach in poor neighborhoods.
The 2,000-year-old Colosseum is used as a backdrop for the ceremony because of the belief that Christians were martyred there in Roman times even though there is no evidence of this.
The ceremony is usually held in a basilica in the city center and commemorates the gesture of humility believed to have been performed by Jesus for his 12 disciples at their last meal.
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