There are some on the Catholic left who are chortling in response to the “Good News” that Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 prisoners, aged 14-21—and two them, female prisoners—on Holy Thursday. The question they are in a frenzy about concerns how best to interpret this liturgical statement. After all, the ritual calls for “viri” (i.e., “men” as in males). They are wondering: Is Pope Francis signaling something positive, namely, greater “inclusion” and “diversity” in the liturgy than has been customary during the past two pontificates?
According to The Telegraph, Pope Francis told his first general audience this past Wednesday:
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.
Eschewing protocol—stepping outside of ourselves and our comfort zones—is something Pope Francis apparently intends to do. But, did the Pope step “outside of” or “beyond” liturgical protocol at the Holy Thursday liturgy? After all, one the two women whose feet he washed, one was a Serbian Muslim.
Some on the Catholic right have been guarded in their evaluation of this Pope’s early ministry. More traditional, liturgically conservative Catholics have expressed concern about the new Pope’s approach to the liturgy, in particular. The footwashing of the Serbian Muslim woman will heighten their level of discomfort.
More important than the liturgical statement Pope Francis may have intended to telegraph is that, in doing so, he may have overlooked, neglected, or disregarded, if not violated Muslim law.
The Rules of Touching
193 – Rule: Body contact is not allowed with one who it is not allowed to look at, and every kind of touching of the body to any part of the other one’s body is haram and one must refrain from this; unless it from on top of the clothing and it is without the intention of lust. ABGKLMS
While the Pope may have intended this particular footwashing to be “a positive sign” in the life of the Serbian Muslim inmate whose foot he washed, strict Muslims may take offense.
Like Pope Benedict XVI, it may not be long before Pope Francis finds himself being challenged by an Imam who issues a fatwa. In October 2006, Pakistan’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa has issued a fatwa asking the Muslim community to kill Pope Benedict for his “blasphemous” statement about Prophet Mohammad:
The Jamaat-ud-Dawa has declared death to Pope Benedict and said that in today’s world blasphemy of the Holy Koran and the Prophet has become a fashion….Prominent Jamaat leader Hafiz Saifullah Khalid said that in the present circumstances, jihad has become obligatory for each Muslim. Muslims are being declared terrorists and our battle for survival has already started. The Muslim world has rejected the Pope’s apology and decided to continue protests and demonstrations in big cities.
Eschewing protocol can be refreshing and prove reinvigorating. It can be a sign of love and respect, fulfilling the spirit of the law” rather than living according to the “letter of the law.”
In retrospect, it can also cause unintended problems.
To read the article in The Telegraph, click on the following link:
To read the Muslim Code of Ethics rules of touching, click on the following link:
To read the about the fatwa issued against Pope Benedict XVI, click on the following link: