A Mumbai priest remembered, in new Pope's act

Mumbai, March 31 : Even as traditionalists took umbrage at Pope Francis I washing the feet of two young women on Maundy Thursday, some Mumbai Catholics Sunday recalled the pioneering spirit of late Father Hugh Fonseca.

Among those whose feet the new Pope washed as part of the ritual prayer services of Maundy Thursday were prisoners at a detention centre in Rome, including a Serbian Muslim woman.

Welcoming the Pope's move, Dolphy D'Souza, former president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha, reminisced Sunday about a similar incident that took place here in late 1990s.

Bombay Catholic Sabha is an organisation that works in the civic, political and social sectors for the allround development of the community.

An elated D'Souza said that Pope Francis I has set the tone, and laid down an example. The gesture would go a long way in women's empowerment within the Catholic Church.

"In the late 1990s, the late Father Hugh Fonseca, one of the few activist priests in his time, was the parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Malad (northwest Mumbai)," he said. D'Souza was then chairman of the Parish Pastoral Council of the same parish.

"At the Parish Council meeting, it was decided that during the Maundy Thursday ritual, at the mass, the priest would wash the feet of 12 female domestic workers. However, some parishioners complained to the bishop about this, and Father Fonseca was told by the bishop that the said act was against Cannon Law, and directed to abandon such a move," D'Souza reminisced.

D'Souza said that while Father Fonseca relented, in keeping with his vows of obedience to the bishop, he did not abandon the idea entirely.

"Father Fonseca washed the feet of the 12 male domestic workers at the altar, but directed me to wash the feet of the selected female house workers at the same time in the midst of the community below the altar," D'Souza said.

Stating that Father Fonseca's actions at the Holy Thursday ritual set an example long back, D'Souza said he was glad that the new Pope was sending out a clear message to ensure that women are given their due by today's church.

Maundy Thursday marks the time when Jesus laid down the ritual practice of the communal meal, as a coming together of disciples. The Sunday mass is a re-enactment of that meal.

The Bible describes how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, as a mark of the humility with which those who lead must serve.

Traditionally, elderly people in a parish are called to the alter, and their feet washed during Maundy Thursday mass.

--IANS (Posted on 31-03-2013)

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