Pope Francis cleanses 12 young soles

POPE Francis has washed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention centre in a Holy Thursday ritual

He had celebrated the ritual for years as archbishop, and yesterday performed it for the first time as Pope.

The Mass was held in the Casal del Marmo facility in Rome, where 46 young men and women are detained.

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Many of them are Gypsies or North African migrants, and the Vatican said the 12 selected for the rite were not necessarily Catholic.

Vatican Radio reported that Pope Francis told the detainees that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in a gesture of service, saying: “If the Lord has washed his disciples’ feet, you should do the same.”

Two young women were among the 12, the first time a pontiff has included females in the rite.

The traditional Mass commemorated Jesus’s gesture of humility towards his apostles the night before he died.

The ceremony has been traditionally limited to men because all of Jesus’ apostles were male. The Vatican spokesman also said two of the inmates were Muslim.

While the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio included women in the rite when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, it was the first time women had taken part in a papal Holy Thursday ceremony.

Taking the ceremony to a youth prison was also a papal first and Francis, who was elected only two weeks ago, said he wanted to be closer to those who were suffering.

All popes in living memory have held the service either in St Peter’s or the Basilica of St John in Lateran, which is the Pope’s cathedral church in his capacity as Bishop of Rome.

In a brief, unscripted homily, the Pope told the young inmates that everyone, including him, had to be in the service of others.

“It is the example of the Lord. He was the most important but he washed the feet of others. The most important must be at the service of others,” he said.

At a Mass in the Vatican yesterday morning, Pope Francis urged Catholic priests to devote themselves to helping the poor and suffering instead of worrying about careers as Church “managers”.

His homily at his first Holy Thursday service as Roman Catholic leader was the latest sign since his surprise election two weeks ago of his determination that the 1.2 billion-member Church should be closer to the poor.