Source: The Washington Post
In her 50th Easter season as a nun, Sister Antonia Sanchez participated in something new.
For the past 49 years, since she joined the order of Religious Mary Immaculate at age 16, Sanchez has watched priests wash the feet of men on Holy Thursday. This week, Sanchez was before the altar herself at the nation’s preeminent Catholic shrine. She was the one removing her shoes and socks. And then the pope’s representative to America washed her feet.
This was the first Easter since Pope Francis decreed in January that priests can include women in the foot-washing ritual, one of the most moving rites of the holiest week on the church’s calendar. The change had already happened in some churches, but since Francis made it official, it is now spreading worldwide.
Sanchez has been waiting for this for half a century. “I said, ‘Maybe sometime,’” she said. “This is the first time the pope said this opportunity has to be for ladies too. In this moment, I feel I’m privileged.”
The change is the most recent of Pope Francis’s slow but symbolically powerful efforts to expand women’s roles in church life.
On his first Easter after becoming pope in 2013, Francis washed the feet of women and Muslims at a juvenile detention center in Rome. While he has disappointed liberals within the church with his reiteration that women can’t be priests and his decision not to include women in his recent synods, he has also drawn attention to the gender wage gap, and he recently ended an inquiry into American nuns that many saw as anti-women.
As priests around the world took both women’s and men’s feet in their hands on Thursday, their gesture of humility represented to many the progress of inclusion in the Catholic church.
The Holy Week tradition models Jesus’s call for humility when he washed the feet of his Apostles at the Last Supper. In the gospel that was read on Thursday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the country’s largest Catholic church, the apostle Peter asked, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” And Jesus responded, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Jesus also instructed the apostles at the Last Supper to continue the tradition of foot-washing.