CAGAYAN DE ORO: Emulating Pope Francis’ gesture to wash the feet of inmates at a prison in Rome on Maundy Thursday, a priest here washed, dried and kissed the feet of the city’s poorest and most vulnerable.
In a recast of an age-old ritual at a church located within a posh township, Fr. Florencio Salvador, chaplain at the St. Francis Xavier chaplaincy in the city’s Pueblo de Oro Estates, washed the feet of at least a dozen poor, including the mentally challenged, the survivors of domestic abuse and those struggling with drug addiction.
Fr. Salvador washed the feet of people from shelters and rehabilitation centers run by the Roman Catholic Church’s various social action ministries.
The Thursday rituals recalled the biblical instance when Jesus Christ washed the feet of a dozen disciples before breaking bread with them shortly before he was arrested and crucified.
Traditionally, Vatican rules that the ritual washing of the feet is exclusively for males as Christ did it on his 12 all-male apostles.
But barely two weeks after Pope Francis became the top vicar of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013, he broke tradition by washing the feet of young people, including those of a young woman living with AIDS at a detention center. Last year, he washed the feet of the elderly and disabled, including those of other religious affiliations.
For Mary G., 23, a ward at the House of Hope, a facility for the mentally challenged managed by the Missionary Congregation of Mary, the opportunity came unexpected. She was planning to do something else that afternoon when she was informed. She came as an eleventh-hour replacement for someone else who got ill.
“Spiritual belief is part of my healing practice. Before I got ill, I was already a church-goer and I sing in church as part of the church band of a Christian denomination, but the experience last Thursday was way beyond my wildest imagination. I was partly shy, partly proud during the ritual. As the priest washed my feet, I prayed hard that I will recover completely and be with my family again and able to go back to school,” she said.
Inspired by the gestures of Pope Francis, early in March, as the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro was celebrating Social Action Month, Fr. Salvador invited representatives from rehabilitation centers.
He said that changing the participants of the ritual also highlights themes of the Year of the Poor among the church-goers in his chaplaincy and instills the inclusion of the poor in development plans for the communities, he added.
In November last year, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippine declared 2015 as Year of the Poor in anticipation of papal visit to the country last January.
Fr. Salvador also stressed that while the St. Francis Xavier chaplaincy serves communities residing in the two upscale subdivisions of Xavier Estates and Pueblo de Oro, it is also open to residents of a host of working-class subdivisions in their peripheries as well as that of nearby resettlement sites of survivors of typhoon Sendong in 2011.