In a March 29 statement provided to the media, Father Federico Lombardi called the Pope's move a “very beautiful and simple gesture of a father who desired to embrace those who were on the fringes of society; those who were not refined experts of liturgical rules.”
Pope Francis made headlines recently after deciding to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass on March 28 at Casal del Marmo youth detention center in Rome, instead of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran.
During his leadership of the Buenos Aires archdiocese, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was known to preside over the Holy Thursday liturgy in a prison, a hospital or a hospice for the poor and marginalized people.
Among the twelve young inmates whose feet he washed on Thursday were two women, one of Serbian-Muslim tradition.
Following significant media attention as well as backlash from some within the Church, Fr. Lombardi said that to “have excluded the young women from the ritual washing of feet on Holy Thursday night in this Roman prison, would have detracted our attention from the essence of the Holy Thursday Gospel.”
“One can easily understand that in a great celebration, men would be chosen for the foot washing because Jesus, himself washing the feet of the twelve apostles who were male,” he said.
“However the ritual of the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday evening...took place in a particular, small community that included young women.”
“When Jesus washed the feet of those who were with him on the first Holy Thursday, he desired to teach all a lesson about the meaning of service, using a gesture that included all members of the community,” the spokesman emphasized in his statement.
“That the Holy Father, Francis, washed the feet of young men and women on his first Holy Thursday as Pope, should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy of the Bishop of Rome, more than to legalistic, liturgical or canonical discussions.”
In response to controversy, the Vatican's spokesman has praised Pope Francis' “simple” act of love for including two women among a group of young prisoners whose feet he washed on Holy Thursday.
Pope Francis, Holy Week