The feathers of some of the cardinals are being ruffled following the actions of their newest pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, or Pope Francis. Turning from tradition, the pope has chosen servanthood and simplicity to be his primary standards.
Washing the feet of two young women among 12 selected individuals, one an imprisoned Serbian Muslim girl, is no exception.
According to USA Today, the actions recently demonstrated by Pope Francis are consistent with his actions in the past.
“As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio would celebrate the ritual foot-washing in jails, hospitals or hospices (as) part of his ministry to the poorest and most marginalized of society,” Nicole Winfield, AP correspondent, said. “It’s a message that he is continuing now that he is pope, saying he wants a church ‘for the poor.’”
Popes long before Francis have carried out this symbolic ritual, expressing the love and kindness that Jesus displayed during the last supper on the night of his arrest.
The fact that Francis chose to wash the feet of two young women, one of them Muslim, capitalizes on the idea that the new pope is trying to focus on helping the less fortunate – and he has shaken up the Roman Catholic Church quite a bit in the process.
According to Jimmy Akin of the National Catholic Register, it is a symbolic gesture of love.
“I think we should understand it in the same light that explains the initial decision to celebrate this mass in a youth prison: Pope Francis wants to reach out to the young people in the prison and bring them the light of Christ,” Akin said after the ceremony. “He is taking the role of a servant and an evangelist.”
Choosing to wash the feet of a Muslim girl could not have been a clearer sign of his humility, and neither could the decision to reject the elevated platform above the cardinals during the celebration.
Francis has demonstrated the importance of remaining humble and serving those who are less fortunate than we are.
The humility that Francis has shown is affecting Catholics from all over the world, especially those who have strayed from the church whether because of the hierarchal structure or the regimental teachings.
“A 2009 report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimated one in 10 adults in the U.S. was raised Catholic but has broken with the church. Its teachings on abortion, homosexuality, birth control and treatment of women were often cited as reasons,” Tracy Connor, a staff writer for NBC News, wrote.
Still, the hope for a revival of Catholicism has merit.
“After years of disenchantment with the church’s hierarchy and teachings, former members of the flock say they are willing to give the Vatican a second chance under new leadership,” Connor wrote.
Dr. Wayne Brindle, a professor of Biblical Studies at Liberty University, thinks the pope may not be affecting Catholicism as much as others say he is.
“No, I don’t think this says anything about ‘Catholicism,’” Brindle said in response to whether this is a sign that Catholicism is changing from their ritualistic ways. “But it does indicate that this former cardinal from Argentina rose to leadership among South American Catholics because of his focus on the need for the church to minister to the poor and downtrodden, which has been an emphasis of South American Roman Catholic leadership for many decades.”
Still, the thousands who stood outside the Vatican when Francis was introduced as the new pope serve as evidence that people are looking for hope within the towering cathedral once again.
As Francis continues his crusade of kindness, my prayer is that people from all walks of life will accept and embrace this divergence from ritualistic behaviors and hierarchal traditions.
I have heard many say that a revival must sweep across this nation, or else this generation will witness a tragic fall from the tenets our founding fathers established.
Like Francis, it can start with humble acts of kindness toward others we meet every day.
In doing so, let us remember to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the ultimate example of love. It is he who displayed perfect kindness and humility, giving up his life for sinners in desperate need of a savior.