BY MELISSA SOLANO
All the eyes of the world have been on the Vatican and our new Pope since his election, and this focus was not lost as his first Holy Week as Pope drew to a close.
He began addressing Holy Week in his first general audience appearance on March 27, leaving the faithful with an important message to carry as Holy Week 2013 is celebrated around the world.
“Living Holy Week means following Jesus not only with moved hearts, it means learning to come out of ourselves like I said last Sunday, to meet others, to go toward the edges of our existence and help our brothers and sisters especially those who are the farthest from us, those who are forgotten, those who need the presence of Jesus and his mercy,” said the Pope, according to Rome Reports.
He opened Holy Week by celebrating Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, to a crowd of more than 250,000 people, appropriately waving palms and olive branches, according to New Jersey News
Since his election as Pope, it is strikingly clear that he plans on living up to his namesake. This was not lost on Holy Thursday. Rather than traditionally wash the feet of priests in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the most important of the four major basilicas in Rome, he elected instead to kneel down before detainees at the Casal del Marmo Penitentiary Institute for Minors. According to NBC World News, he washed the feet of 12 prisoners, aged 16 to 21, from varied racial and religious backgrounds including two Muslims. He also washed the feet of two young women, the first time that a pope has included females in the rite. Traditionally, only the feet of men were washed in order to imitate the washing of the all-male disciples’ feet.
Some viewed this act with disdain and criticized the Pope for his actions, such as Catholic Canon Law blogger Edward Peters.
“If liturgical law permitted the washing of women’s feet at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, no one would have noticed the pope doing it,” blogged Peters shortly after the ceremony.
Conversely, the Vatican stood by Pope Francis.
“It is a gesture of humility and service,” stated the Rev. Tom Rosica, a Vatican Press Office spokesperson.
On Good Friday, the Pope celebrated the traditional Way of the Cross service in front of the ancient Roman coliseum. The stations were dedicated to the suffering of Christians from terrorism, war and religious fanaticism in the Middle East. The Washington Times mentions that the meditations, which were interspersed with calls for peace, were written by young Lebanese, who also accompanied the walk.
Pope Francis then returned to St. Peter’s to celebrate the Easter Vigil Mass. The Mass proceeded as usual with only one major difference between Pope Francis’ celebration and his predecessors. He shortened it. Vatican officials said it was his aim not to make his Masses run too long, and Easter Vigil was no exception. Easter Vigil services under Pope Emetirus Benedict would run more than three hours, while Francis kept his just under two and a half by shortening the sharing of the candle light as well as some of the Old Testament readings.
In his homily, he stated “Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness, and that is where death is,” he said. “Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome Him as a friend, with trust: He is life.” Keeping with tradition, the Washington Post reported he also baptized four men into the Church.
Easter Sunday Mass, the Pope celebrated his first Easter Mass as pontiff in St. Peter’s to a full crowd, many of whom had been filling the square hours before Mass began. He rode in on the now-open-topped Pope mobile waving at the crowd. He even accepted and happily waved a team jersey that someone handed him of his favorite Argentinean soccer team, the San Lorenzo Saints. Along with pushing on the message of peace and reconciliation that has been the prevalent theme of his Holy Week, he prayed that Christ would help people “change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.”