Why We Needed To See Pope Francis Wash And Kiss The Feet Of Muslim Refugees

"We are brothers."

After the deadly Brussels attack, there was a widely publicized call for law enforcement to "patrol and secure" all Muslim communities in the U.S. before they become radicalized. The backlash came swiftly and soundly, but dangerous anti-Muslim sentiments have grown louder and more aggressive.

But amid the divisive rhetoric so often heard today, one religious leader has demonstrated the kind of compassion and humanity that we wish would come from more people in positions of power. On Holy Thursday during Easter Week mass, Pope Francis washed the feet of Muslim refugees in a gesture of brotherhood that has earned the Catholic leader wide praise.

The Holy Thursday rite, meant as a gesture of service, recalls Jesus washing his apostles' feet before being crucified. Francis washed and kissed the feet of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Orthodox refugees, contrasting his act with the "gesture of destruction" that took place in Brussels earlier this week.

"We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace," Francis said in his speech.

The refugees hailed from Eritrea, Italy, Nigeria, Mali, Syria, Pakistan and India. Some of them wept openly as Francis washed their feet. 

The ritual is typically performed by the pope on men only, but Francis has defied the tradition since his election to the papacy in 2013, when he shocked Catholics by washing the feet of women and Muslims at a juvenile detention center. 

In January, Francis decided to officially change the rules to allow women and girls to participate in the ritual.

So while politicians who claim to be deeply religious scramble to win over voters by espousing an "us versus them" mentality, the pope's antidotal gesture proves that religion should be a tool for unity, not conflict.

Cover image via softdelusion66 / Shutterstock.com.