In a first, Kerala churches see ‘washing of feet’ ritual on women

Thiruvananthapuram, March 24 (IANS) In a departure from an age-old custom and putting into practice a papal decree, bishops at the Holy Thursday service in two Latin diocese churches in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, for the first time washed the feet of women as part of a ritual earlier performed only on males.

Christians on Thursday commemorated Holy Thursday — that recalls Jesus washing the feet of his 12 apostles before having the Last Supper.

The change in the ‘feet washing’ ritual on ‘Maundy Thursday’ is in line with a decree issued in January by Pope Francis, saying the rite should no longer be limited to men and boys, but also include women and young girls.

“The decision to extend the ritual to women and girls was taken after the church discussed it at various levels,” a spokesperson of Latin Church’s diocese told IANS.

Archbishop M. Soosaipakiam washed the feet of six women, including two physically challenged women, and six men on Thursday evening at the St. Joseph’s cathedral in the state capital, the spokesperson said.

The Latin Church is in communion with the Roman Catholic Church headed by the Bishop of Rome, more popularly known as Pope.

Along with the Syro Malabar Church and the Syro Malankara Catholic Church, it accounts for Kerala’s Catholics who make up about half of the 61.41 lakh Christians in the state.

Washing of the feet is the most important ritual on Maundy Thursday.

The change, Pope Francis had said, was “an attempt to improve the method of implementation, to express the full meaning of the gesture performed by Jesus at the Last Supper”.

While the Latin Church diocese here decided to make the change, other dioceses have decided to take it up next year.

The Syro Malabar Church also decided to look into the matter next year.

Leading the service in Kochi, Mar George Cardinal Alencherry, the head of the Syro Malabar Church, however, washed the feet of 12 men only.

“Today (Thursday) this did not happen in our churches,” Paul Thelekkat, a senior priest of the Syro Malabar Church, told IANS.

The Syro Malankara Catholic Church also decided to keep the change in ritual in abeyance, pending discussions at all levels.

Before becoming Pope, Francis, as a bishop, used to wash the feet of not only women but also non-Christians in the rituals in his home country Argentina, Thelekkat said.

“Now the Pope has made a change in the ritual. But as far as oriental Catholics (Syro Malabar Church and the Syro Malankara Catholic Church) are concerned, ritual changes are made not by the Pope, but by the synod of bishops of the particular church. I hope these two churches will look into it,” said Thelekkat.

‘Synod’ refers to the governing body of a particular church.

Non-Catholic churches in Kerala continue to hold the ritual, limited to only men and boys.

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