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Pope washes feet of elderly, disabled in rite

NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
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Pope Francis arrives for the Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Thursday, April 17, 2014. During the mass the Pontiff blesses the oil of catechumens, the oil of sick and the holy chrism, which will be used in the administration of the sacraments throughout the year.  The Chrism Mass marks the start of the Easter celebrations.  (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope Francis arrives for the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Thursday, April 17, 2014. During the mass the Pontiff blesses the oil of catechumens, the oil of sick and the holy chrism, which will be used in the administration of the sacraments throughout the year. The Chrism Mass marks the start of the Easter celebrations. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 elderly and disabled people Thursday — women and non-Catholics among them — in a pre-Easter ritual designed to show his willingness to serve others like a “slave.”

Francis’ decision in 2013 to perform the Holy Thursday ritual on women and Muslim inmates at a juvenile detention center helped define his rule-breaking papacy just two weeks after his election. It riled traditionalist Catholics, who pointed to the Vatican’s own regulations that the ritual be performed only on men since Jesus’ 12 apostles were men.

Pope Francis greets faithful as he arrives at the Don Gnocchi Foundation for assistance to disabled and elderly to celebrate the rite of the washing of the feet, in Rome, Thursday, April 17, 2014.  (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis greets faithful as he arrives at the Don Gnocchi Foundation for assistance to disabled and elderly to celebrate the rite of the washing of the feet, in Rome, Thursday, April 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

But as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio frequently performed the ritual on women — a practice that he seems intent on keeping up now that he is pope.

The 2014 edition brought Francis to a center for the elderly and disabled in Rome. Francis kneeled down, washed, dried and kissed the feet of a dozen people, some in wheelchairs, some with grossly swollen and disfigured feet.

The Vatican didn’t release the exact breakdown of their religious backgrounds, but said they came from various religious confessions. Italian news reports said one was a Libyan Muslim.

Francis told the faithful that he was performing the ritual to remind himself how to serve others, as Jesus did when he washed the feet of his apostles.

In this picture made available by the Vatican newspaper L' Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis touches an amphora containing holy oil during a Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Thursday, April 17, 2014. During the mass the Pontiff blessed a token amount of oil that will be used to administer the sacraments throughout the year. The Chrism Mass marks the start of the Easter celebrations. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

In this picture made available by the Vatican newspaper L’ Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis touches an amphora containing holy oil during a Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Thursday, April 17, 2014. During the mass the Pontiff blessed a token amount of oil that will be used to administer the sacraments throughout the year. The Chrism Mass marks the start of the Easter celebrations. (AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“Jesus made a gesture, a job, the service of a slave, a servant,” he said. “And he leaves this inheritance to us: We need to be servants to one another.”

Francis began Holy Thursday by presiding over Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica celebrating the priesthood, the start of a busy four days of Holy Week commemorations and preparations for next week’s canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII.

During his morning homily Thursday, Francis urged his priests to exhibit joy, though he admitted that he too had suffered “moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life.”

Amphoras containing holy oil are carried by prelates in St. Peter's Basilica during a Chrism Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the Vatican, Thursday, April 17, 2014. During the mass the Pontiff blessed a token amount of oil that will be used to administer the sacraments throughout the year. The Chrism Mass marks the start of the Easter celebrations. (AP Photo/L' Osservatore Romano)

Amphoras containing holy oil are carried by prelates in St. Peter’s Basilica during a Chrism Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the Vatican, Thursday, April 17, 2014. During the mass the Pontiff blessed a token amount of oil that will be used to administer the sacraments throughout the year. The Chrism Mass marks the start of the Easter celebrations. (AP Photo/L’ Osservatore Romano)

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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