Leading up to his first Easter as pontiff, Pope Francis on Thursday washed the
feet of 12 young prisoners at a juvenile detention facility near Rome.
In the past, the pope would wash the feet of priests in the ornate setting of St. John Lateran's Basilica, a Holy Thursday Mass that recalls how Jesus cleansed the feet of his 12 apostles at the Last Supper.
On Sunday the scene will be quite different.
Francis, until recently the archbishop of Buenos Aires, will celebrate Easter Mass in front of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square. Many of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics will be paying close attention to what he has to tell them.
"He is a very compelling and warm figure who has a message of serenity and joy," said Christelle Celerier, a 41-year-old teacher who said she would attend Francis' Easter Sunday Mass at the Vatican. "He is the kind of spiritual leader who helps us remember the connection between the church and regular people."
Francis' celebration of Mass at the Casal del Marmo prison is one of several public gestures he has made since becoming pope to define the mission of his papacy. He has made a point of demonstrating to his flock, his priests and cardinals that they must take the teachings of Christ to the world, in a humble and spiritual way.
His remarks at his first general audience Wednesday may have been an insight into his message to come on Sunday.
"Holy Week challenges us to step outside ourselves so as to attend to the needs of others: those who long for a sympathetic ear, those in need of comfort or help," Francis told thousands of people on St. Peter's Square.
"We should not simply remain in our own secure world -- that of the 99 sheep who never strayed from the fold -- but we should go out, with Christ, in search of the one lost sheep, however far it may have wandered," he said.
Today, Francis was to recite in St. Peter's Basilica the Passion of Christ -- the story of the last hours of Jesus' life and death by crucifixion. He then presides over a ceremony by the Coliseum, where thousands of Christians were martyred in Roman times.
Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in February, took part in last year's ceremony from under a canopy. Francis, 76, is supposed to be in the procession and perhaps shoulder the wooden cross part of the way. On Saturday, Francis will partake in an Easter vigil in St. Peter's Basilica.
The Vatican wanted to have the new pope in place for Holy Week because it serves as a prolonged introduction.
It marks the pope's transition from establishing his style and priorities at the start of his papacy and the work that comes with it and the challenges that await.
Pope Francis washes the feet of a young offender during a Mass at the church of the Casal del Marmo youth prison on the outskirts of Rome as gesture of humility during the observation of Holy Thursday.
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