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Pope Francis washes the feet of refugees

Lewis Sanders IVMarch 24, 2016

In a sign of "humility and service," the Argentine pontiff has washed the feet of refugees from various religious backgrounds. One refugee said he felt "more important than Obama."

Rom - Papst Fußwaschung Gründonnerstag
Image: Reuters

Pope Francis washed the feet of 11 Muslim, Orthodox, Hindu and Catholic refugees and one aid worker at a shelter for asylum applicants as part of traditional rituals held on the Thursday before most Christians celebrate Easter on Sunday.

The "washing of the feet" ritual represents a "gesture of humility and service" that reflects the moment Jesus washed his disciples' feet in chapter 13 of the Gospel of John, according to the Vatican.

"All of us together - Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals - but brothers, children of the same God, who want to live in peace, integrated," the pope said in unscripted comments, according to Reuters news agency.

"Three days ago, there was a gesture of war, of destruction, in a city of Europe by people who don't want to live in peace," the pope said, referring to attacks in Brussels that left more than 30 people dead. "Behind that gesture, there were arms manufacturers, arms traffickers, who want blood, not peace, who want war, not brotherhood."

The pope, who has championed refugees' rights at a moment of growing anti-migrant populism, has called on European leaders to do more for refugees, many of whom are fleeing war in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

"Washing the feet of the refugees, Pope Francis demands respect for each one of them," Archbishop Rino Fisichella wrote earlier this week.

'More important than Obama'

Angelo Chiorazzo, who founded the charity running the shelter outside of Rome, told Vatican Radio that the asylum applicants were looking forward to the ceremony.

"One of the boys, a Muslim from Mali, told me: 'I really feel more important than [US President Barack] Obama. That the pope, the most important in the world - the best man in the world - will wash my feet," Chiorazzo said.

After the ceremony, the pontiff individually greeted many of the nearly 900 refugees residing at the shelter.

"The church is a big ship, not a canoe."