BY SAMANTHA YANITY | March 29, 2016
It seems as though every waking hour there is another layer of destruction and carnage spread across the globe. Families have been torn apart by war, acts of terror, and sheer hatred. Hateful rhetoric slices through our news outlets fueling the vilest of xenophobic discourse and yet here we remain living our daily lives. The world keeps spinning. Those of us lucky enough to be untouched by violence feel frozen with helplessness and aching for the broken world that needs healing. What can we do for our brothers and sisters in such a world as this?
“Each of us has a story, each of you has a story you carry with you. Many crosses, many sorrows: but also an open heart that wants brotherhood,” Pope Francis said in the closing remarks of his Holy Thursday homily after performing the foot washing ritual at Castelnuovo di Porto refugees center. Pope Francis washed the feet of eleven migrants both women and men from different faith backgrounds (Muslims, Coptic Orthodox, Hindu, and Catholics). That evening he spoke of brotherhood reminding us that all of two gestures of human life that are reflected in the final hours of Jesus’ life: betrayed and servanthood.
As Pope Francis has pointed out in his homily, we can live our lives two ways. Either we serve one another as Jesus did, or we betray our brother like Judas did. One act brings unity, and the other brings division. Pope Francis encourages all of us to embrace one another as Jesus did as brothers and sisters. We truly serve one another like Jesus did and remember that Jesus even washed the feet of the one who betrayed him.
Watching the footage of the foot washing, I was moved by the faces of those in the crowd who wiped away tear soaked cheeks of joy, peace, and comfort. I thought of what St. Paul urges in his letter to the Galatians, “Bear in one another’s burdens and so fulfills the law of Christ.” When we share in the sorrows and pain of others, we do what Jesus did for us on the cross. Jesus shed his blood for all for the forgiveness of sins and in doing this, he also suffers with us as we endure our daily crosses.
Why is foot washing so significant? Feet are the lowliest and dirtiest parts of a human. In washing each others’ feet, we not only embrace the deepest parts of their human dignity, but we reveal that we fully embrace every part of their being. If we can wash the feet of those who share nothing in common with us, we embrace the deepest parts of both their hearts and ours. Pope Francis’ act of washing the feet of war-torn migrants, who represent our greatest fears (war, terrorism, displacement), reminds us that we are all brothers and sisters. In performing this act as Jesus once did for his disciples, Pope Francis not only revealed Jesus to them by showing them love and compassion, but he showed the world what real unity looks like.
All of us are called to love another. In our daily lives, it is important to seek out daily opportunities to wash someone’s feet. These deeds do not have to be large ones. Any gesture of compassion of love no matter the size is, even if it is merely exchanging a smile with a stranger, brings us closer to unity. Small steps eventually lead to the conquering of mountains. Change always begins with small steps. What we must do is start with our hearts. Every day we are given the opportunity for a few moments of silence and reflection. In those moments of reflection, we can carefully examine our hearts and conscience and ask the Lord who he might be sending us to serve that day. Remember as you go out into the world, as Pope Francis said, there are two gestures: betrayed and foot-washing. Will my actions bring more division or unity?
Samantha is currently earning an M.Div and M.A. in social justice at Loyola University Chicago’s Institute for Pastoral Ministry.