Francis Effect

Women washing feet
photo credit: Noel Rose / Facebook

Pope Francis’s witness and change to the rubrics of foot washing on Holy Thursday has been having an effect in India. In an opinion essay in the news outlet Scroll.in, women’s rights lawyer Flavia Agnes writes:

Following the footsteps of their supreme religious leader, last year a few dioceses and parishes in India introduced this single-most inclusive liturgical practice and included the poor, the marginalised and women – Catholics and others, in the traditional feet-washing ceremony.

Even bishops of Roman Catholic churches in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi washed the feet of women for the first time.

Resistance to the practice however has also emerged among some Catholic clergy and clergy of other Christian churches.

It is against this background that the celebration of the ritual of washing of the feet organised by a group, Women’s Lives Matter, gains significance. In keeping with the new directions which Pope Francis has set, the group celebrated the feet washing ceremony with the inmates of Swanthanam Centre for battered Women and children at Kottayam in Kerala on April 11, two days prior to the day marked for the celebrations.

The ceremony on April 11, said Kochurani Abraham of the Women’s Life Matter, was inspired by the initiative of the Pope. “The ritual was a means of taking the message of forgiveness, acceptance and mutual care outside the boundaries of the church’s ritual worship,” Abraham told the Hindu. The celebration, she hoped, would help the ecclesiastical leadership to revisit their earlier decision . . .

You can read the whole story here.

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One comment

  1. “Resistance to the practice however has also emerged among some Catholic clergy and clergy of other Christian churches.”

    We might even say, “… other Catholic churches”? The article indicates that an official of the Syro Malabar church interprets the pope’s teachings on this topic as applying to Roman Catholicism but not his rite.

    I am not entirely sure what to think about what is reported here. I have no objection to what Francis personally does in the Holy Thursday footwashing, nor to the change in liturgical law that he’s promulgated. I suspect that, for many of us who live and worship in the developed world, this development is a case of Francis mainstreaming what has been happening in our parishes already for many years. Personally, I’m also sympathetic to the “progressive” cast of the article referenced in the post (and I love the photos in that article).

    I actually think the political language of the article is, in some respects, unfortunate, because my personal view is that the more-inclusive character of footwashing that Francis advocates should transcend political differences, and I don’t consider that Francis and the church are being particularly partisan in celebrating the rite in a way that recognizes the universality of human dignity. If the church’s ritual is serving as a catalyst for change across the wider secular culture, then surely that’s something to cheer.

    That the women feel constrained to have their own footwashing ceremonies on a different day is too bad, though. It would be better that women could be included in the actual Holy Thursday celebration. There is sort of an “us vs them” aspect to the women doing their own ritual.

    I’m also not sure what to think about the Syro Malabar vs. Roman distinction. My instinct is to respect what a different church wishes to do. Yet as I say, my sympathy is with the women. It’s a bit of a quandary.

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