By editor - 23 March, 2016
A change in the rules made at the request of the Pope means women may now officially be among those whose feet are washed.
The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will on Holy Thursday wash the feet of 12 refugees as a sign of service and attention to their situation.
The refugees are being hosted by the Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers, known as the Centro di Accoglienza per Richiedenti Asilo, or CARA in Castelnuovo di Porto outside Rome.
Many of these young people are not Catholic.
Last year, Pope Francis carried out the foot-washing ritual at Rome’s Rebibbia prison, and the year before at an elderly care home and the year before that, in one of his first acts as pontiff, at a juvenile prison.
It is expected that, as on previous occasions, the Pope will wash women’s as well as men’s feet this year.
A change in the rules made at the request of Pope Francis means women may now officially be among those whose feet are washed.
Last year on Holy Thursday the Pope washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates at Rebibbia prison, six men and six women.
In December 2014, the Pope sent a letter to Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, asking for the rubric to be changed so that it cannot be used to exclude women.
However, as the Association of Catholic Priests has highlighted, changing just one word took the dicastery 13 months.
It was only in January this year that the rubric was actually changed.
Commentators believe the Pope does not just wish to permit women to participate in this ritual, but that he also believes the foot-washing rite should reflect the makeup of each community: men and women, young and old, sick and well, clergy and laity.
On Holy Thursday in Catholic churches throughout the world the ritual of the washing of the feet will be enacted, in memory of Jesus’s example of loving intimate service and in fulfilment of His command to his disciples to do the same.