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Pope Francis washed the feet of refugees in a centre near Rome on Thursday, as Europe wrestled with the twin challenges of the migration crisis and the threat of terrorism. In a highly symbolic gesture for Easter week, the Pope travelled 15 miles north of...

Pope Francis to wash feet of refugees in asylum seeker centre near Rome

Pope Francis washed the feet of refugees in a centre near Rome on Thursday, as Europe wrestled with the twin challenges of the migration crisis and the threat of terrorism. In a highly symbolic gesture for Easter week, the Pope travelled 15 miles north of...

Pope Francis to wash feet of refugees in asylum seeker centre near Rome

Pope Francis washed the feet of refugees in a centre near Rome on Thursday, as Europe wrestled with the twin challenges of the migration crisis and the threat of terrorism.

In a highly symbolic gesture for Easter week, the Pope travelled 15 miles north of Rome to an asylum seeker reception centre in the town of Castelnuovo di Porto.

The ceremony came two days after the Brussels terrorist attacks, in which 31 people were killed.

The Pope, who has repeatedly spoken out in defence of the rights of refugees, washed the feet of 11 asylum seekers – eight men and three women – and a young Italian volunteer at the facility.

The group consisted of five Catholics, three Muslims, three Coptic Christians and a Hindu.

They came from Nigeria, Eritrea, Syria, Pakistan, Mali and India.

Migrants are rescued off the coast of Lampedusa

The asylum seeker centre is temporary home to around 900 migrants and refugees, many of whom arrived in Italy by boat from Libya in crossings organised by people smugglers.

More than a million refugees and migrants reached Europe last year, the majority crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands of the eastern Aegean.

Of the 892 asylum seekers in the facility, 557 are Muslim while the rest are mostly Christian, including Protestants, Catholics and Copts.

“We can understand the symbolic value intended by Pope Francis’ visit to (the centre) in Castelnuovo di Porto and his bending down to wash the feet of refugees,” Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation, wrote in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

“His actions mean to tell us that it is important to pay due attention to the weakest in this historic moment; that we are all called to restore their dignity without resorting to subterfuge. By washing the feet of refugees, Pope Francis implores respect for each one of them.”

The Pope carries out the ritual feet washing at a prison in Rome last year

The ceremony evokes Jesus washing the feet of his disciples at the Last supper before he was crucified.

Despite the Brussels attacks, the Vatican has said there will be no change in schedule to the Pope’s commitments over Easter.

Last year the Pope carried out the ritual feet washing at a prison in Rome, kissing the feet of 12 inmates – six men and six women.

His inclusion of women and non-Christians upset some traditionalists, who pointed out that Vatican rules dictate that the gesture should only involve Catholic men.

But in January the Jesuit pontiff changed those rules to allow women and girls to be included.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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