The Paliano prison is famous for being the only institution in Italy reserved specifically for “collaborators of justice,” that is, criminals who choose to come clean and collaborate with the police in exchange for police protection and, at times, compensation from the State. As of April 1, there were 70 detainees in the prison.
The visit marks the Pope’s third Holy Thursday visit to a prison since he became pontiff in 2013.
After arriving around 4 p.m. local time, Pope Francis met with the inmates before celebrating the Mass that marks Jesus Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples.
During the celebration, the Pope washed the feet of 12 inmates. Three of these were women and one was a Muslim who will be baptized in June.
All of them were Italians apart from one Argentinian and one Albanian. They are serving sentences for various crimes. And apart from two who have life sentences, the rest are expected to be released between 2019 and 2073.
About 60 collaborators collaborators of justice were present for the Mass. Two of them, a man and a woman, were from solitary confinement. The Pope met with these two privately just before he celebrated Mass.
He also greeted each inmate personally.
In his brief homily, the Pope noted that even though Jesus knew his hour had come and that he would be “betrayed and handed over” by Judas, he still chose to love.
“He who was the head, who was God. He washed the feet of his disciples,” he said, explaining that washing the feet of guests was a custom at that time. Since there were no paved streets, people would frequently arrive full of dust.
According to the custom, “the slaves did this,” he said, adding that “Jesus knew and he did it.”
Pointing to how Peter in the Gospel initially doesn’t want Jesus, the Master, to stoop and wash his feet, Pope Francis said that in the moment Jesus explained “that he came into the world to serve and to serve us. To make himself a slave for us. To love until the end.”
The Pope said that although the Pope is the head of the earthly Church, the true head of the Church is Jesus: “The Pope is only the figure of Jesus and I would like to do the same that he did and the priest washes the feet of his faithful.”
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
“Whoever is greatest must do the work of a slave,” the Pope said, recalling the Gospel scene where the disciples were fighting among themselves about who was the greatest.
On that occasion, “Jesus said: whoever wants to be the most important must make himself the smallest,” the Pope said, adding that “all of us are poor, but he loves us as we are.”
The washing of the feet, he said, is not “a folk ceremony.” Rather, it is “an act to remember what Jesus did. Let us think of the love of God alone today.”
Inmates at the prison have access to various activities provided by the prison’s institutional projects, such as opportunities for work, education, cultural and recreational activities, religious and sporting events, and meetings with family members.
Some of the courses available to inmates include iconography classes, ceramics, a pizzeria and kitchen for sweets, a carpentry workshop and an agricultural area with organic farming and a zone blocked off for breeding goats, rabbits, chickens and pigs, and for producing honey.
According to an April 13 communique from the Vatican, prison director Nadia Cersosimo has said these efforts are “initiatives that avoid idleness, reduce distances, fight prejudices and open the path to reinsertion.”