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'Unpredictable pope' to wash feet of 12 prisoners

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In his brief tenure as the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis will break with tradition when he holds a major ceremony in a prison chapel rather than at St. Peter's. His spontaneity and unconventionality has already earned him the nickname "the unpredictable Pope."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Already well known for his informal approach and unscheduled strolls, Pope Francis will conduct next week's Maundy Thursday service in a prison for young offenders on the outskirts of Rome.

Typically held either in St Peter's Basilica or in the Church of St John in Lateran, this is the Pope's church in his capacity as Bishop of Rome. The former archbishop of Buenos Aires instead will hold the service in the Casal del Marmo jail.

Francis is expected to wash and kiss the feet of 12 inmates, in a gesture that commemorates Jesus' humility towards his disciples before the Last Supper, the night before he was crucified.

Francis' decision surprised Vatican officials. The gesture is very much in spirit in keeping with his past in Argentina, where he washed the feet of AIDS sufferers and met with street prostitutes. Pope Francis often held Masses in the homes of seniors, as well as jails and hospitals. In keeping his vows of poverty, he also travelled to work by bus and stayed at a small apartment.

Francis will have his first meeting with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI this weekend. The 76-year-old Argentinian will be flown from the Vatican by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, a centuries-old castle in the hills south of Rome where the Pope Emeritus has been staying since his historic resignation at the end of February.

Both men, adorned in the white vestments of the papacy, will sit down for a meeting and then have lunch together before Francis flies back to the Vatican.

Popes have remained in office until they died for many centuries. Pope Benedict's resignation was the firs tone in nearly 600 years. It is an unusual situation to have an ex-Pope co-existing with his successor.

The only Pope to willingly resign previously was Celestine V, a mountain hermit who was appalled at his election in 1294. The bearded holy man hated the role so much that he abdicated after just five months and nine days into the assignment. Things didn't end well - he was locked up by his successor, Pope Boniface VIII, and died in 1296.

Benedict XVI faces a rather more comfortable future. Within a few weeks he is expected to leave Castel Gandolfo and move into a former convent within the walls of the Vatican, a short distance away from Francis's official apartments.

The Vatican says that the former pope will still be addressed as "Your Holiness" and has decreed that he retains his title of Benedict XVI rather than reverting to Joseph Ratzinger, by which he was known before he was elected Pope in 2005.

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