The new pope has sworn to dedicate much of his papacy to serving the poor–an admirable goal and one which will be very difficult to uphold in the long run as the demands of administration at the Vatican settle in. However, Pope Francis is off to an auspicious start. When he emerged on the Vatican balcony in his first appearance as pope and asked the people to bless him, he displayed a level of humility seldom seen in a world leader. What’s more, he appears genuine in his efforts to live in close contact with the poor and to serve them directly. He never lived in the auspicious residence reserved for the bishop of Argentina, and on Thursday, March 28, 2013, he will wash the feet of twelve prisoners in Rome, as Jesus washed his disciple’s feet the night before his crucifixion.
For Christians, the act of washing another person’s feet engenders a mix of humility and honor. The person washing the feet humbles herself in cleansing what in Jesus’ day would have been the dirtiest part of a person’s body–rough and covered in the day’s dust. The person who allows her feet to be washed is simultaneously honored by the act of another person’s service but also humbled in having another person care for her in this intimate way.
Regardless of our systems of belief, we could all learn from what the pope will do this Thursday. This act is a public reminder that we should remember those whom we have shut away from our sight. We should honor them with human dignity, concern, and care, as we should all people. We should not be afraid to lay compassionate hands on those whom we have been taught to fear.
Thank you, Pope Francis, for remembering the incarcerated. May this act inspire people around the world to treat prisoners with kindness.