For the fourth time in two weeks Pope Francis has chosen to focus on women in the Church as part of his teachings and witness.
On Holy Thursday he washed the feet of 12 prisoners at a juvenile facility prison in Rome. Francis washed black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos. Kneeling on the stone floor as the 12 youngsters sat above him, the 76-year-old Francis poured water from a silver chalice over each foot, dried it with a simple cotton towel and then bent over to kiss each one. In addition to including girls and women in this service, also included were an Orthodox Christian and a young Muslim man. (The traditionalist custom has been to wash the feet of 12 retired priests in a high Mass in church.)
Pope Francis told the detainees that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service. “This is a symbol, it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service,” Francis told the youngsters. “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service.”
Holy Saturday he dedicated his Easter Vigil homily to the women as the first witnesses to the Resurrection. “There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil,” he said. “The women encounter the newness of God.” On Tuesday he spoke about Mary Magdalene’s tears and how we should follow her example of faith.
On Wednesday Pope Francis expanded his reflections to the women of the world, whom he said have a special and fundamental role in the Church and the transmission of the faith. He says:
In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women.
There are difficult days ahead for this pope — with the Vatican bank, the ongoing sexual abuse scandal, and the fundamental corruption that clericalism is wreaking on the church. But in the past 21 days, he has done more to restore integrity to the Catholic church than at least the previous two popes. And he is modeling Christ for the world. I intend to soak up all the healing, all the pastoral and inspiring gospel teaching and all his humble actions that he’s pouring out on the soul of the world.
What an Easter gift!