Pope Francis has visited a refugee centre to wash and kiss the feet of Muslim, Orthodox, Hindu and Catholic refugees, a gesture of welcome at a time when anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment has risen after the Brussels and Paris attacks.

The Holy Thursday rite re-enacts the foot-washing ritual Jesus performed on his apostles before being crucified, and is meant as a gesture of service.

“We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace,” Francis said.

Several of the migrants then wept as Francis knelt before them, poured holy water from a brass pitcher over their feet, wiped them clean and kissed them.

The Vatican selected four women and eight men. The women include an Italian who works at the centre and three Eritrean Coptic Christian migrants. The men include four Catholics from Nigeria, three Muslims from Mali, Syria and Pakistan, and a Hindu from India.

Francis celebrated the traditional Easter Week foot-washing ceremony at a refugee shelter in Castelnuovo di Porto, outside Rome, inaugurating the most solemn period of the Catholic Church’s Easter season.

 

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