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Easter festivities underway in Rome

In a ritual that marks the start of the holiest period in the Christian calendar, Pope Francis has washed the feet of 12 inmates and a baby at Rome's main prison.

The washing of feet is meant to highlight the pope's willingness to serve. He asked the prisoners to pray, so that he, too, might be cleansed of his "filth."

As the inmates wept, Francis knelt down, poured water from a pitcher onto one foot, dried it and then kissed it, thus re-enacting a Biblical account of a ritual that Jesus performed on his apostles before he was crucified.

The inmates included six men and six women from a nearby women's detention center. One was a mother carrying her son on her lap. Francis washed and kissed the child's foot as well.

The pope washing a man's feet

The pope, pictured here in 2013, has won praise for his down-to-earth disposition

It is the third year in a row that Francis did not hold the traditional service in a basilica. Instead he has gone to people on the margins of society and included women. Vatican rules say the ritual should be performed on men, given that Jesus' apostles were male.

A full weekend for the Pope

Today the pope will celebrate a service for the Passion of Our Lord in Saint Peter’s Basilica before heading to the Colosseum, where he will lead thousands in the traditional prayer of the Stations of the Cross. The Roman tradition of holding the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum on the holiday known as Good Friday dates back to the pontificate of Benedict XIV, who died in 1758.

On Saturday evening, Francis will preside over the Easter Vigil in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The festivities lead up to Easter Sunday morning, when the pope will celebrate Mass in Saint Peter's Square before giving his traditional Urbi et Orbi ("To the city and the world") address from the central balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

av/gsw (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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