Pope to wash feet of inmates at mafia turncoat prison
Pope Francis drinks from a traditional mate gourd at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, April 6, 2017 8:16AM EDT
VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis will wash the feet of inmates at a prison known for housing mafia turncoats in an Easter week ritual meant to show his willingness to serve.
The Paliano prison, located in a huge fortress outside Rome, houses many of Italy's "collaborators of justice," who can shave time off their sentences by co-operating with anti-mafia investigators.
Given the security concerns involved, the Vatican said Thursday the April 13 Mass at the maximum-security facility would be "strictly private."
Francis has spoken out frequently to denounce the mafia, declaring mobsters "excommunicated" and urging them to change their ways. Many mafia turncoats have done just that, risking their own lives and those of their families to help authorities fight the mob.
Francis has used the Holy Thursday foot-washing ceremony as a deeply symbolic gesture of inclusion that has at times riled conservatives, such as when he washed the feet of women and Muslims. Last year he performed the ritual on would-be refugees.
Even before he became pope, the Argentine Jesuit paid particular attention to prison ministry and still stays in touch with a group of inmates in Buenos Aires. Francis has denounced the death penalty and solitary confinement and says inmates must be given hope and chances for rehabilitation.