Pope Francis performs the traditional washing of the feet at the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation in Rome, on April 17, 2014.
Osservatore Romano/EPA
April 17, 2014 3:15 PM EDT

Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 elderly and disabled people during a Holy Thursday ritual in Rome on Thursday, the Associated Press reports.

Francis also performed the pre-Easter ritual last year on female and Muslim inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome. That represented a major break with papal tradition, as typically only Catholic men are included in the practice.

The Vatican has not yet released the religious backgrounds of all the participants of this year’s ceremony, but Vatican officials said the participants came from various religious backgrounds. The Pope told the gathered crowd that he performs the ritual in order to remind himself of Jesus’ call to help others.

“Jesus made a gesture, a job, the service of a slave, a servant,” Franics said. “And he leaves this inheritance to us: We need to be servants to one another.”


Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com.

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