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Religion

Pope Francis to begin Easter ceremonies by washing feet

Newly-appointed Pope Francis has begun the rituals leading up to Easter Sunday in Rome.In one, the newly elected Argentine pontiff was to wash 12 young inmates' feet at a juvenile prison.

After an early morning Mass in St Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis was to visit a juvenile detention facility in northwest Rome. The former Archbishop of Buenos Aires was to wash 12 young prisoners' feet at the Casal del Marmo facility, also meeting others in the prison's gym.

The move has been labeled another example of Francis' desire to change the image of the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church; previous popes have marked the Holy Thursday ceremonies by cleansing priests' feet in ornate surroundings.

Holy Thursday, often called Maundy Thursday among other names, is the Thursday preceding Easter. It commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ as portrayed in the New Testament, prior to crucifixion. During this meal, famously painted by Leonardo da Vinci, Jesus is said to have washed his disciples' feet.

A string of subsequent ceremonies marking the story of Jesus' death and resurrection are scheduled throughout the weekend in the Vatican.

Speech at St Peter's Square

The new pope on Wednesday delivered his first general audience - a traditional weekly papal address - at St Peter's Square since taking office, also making his first political remarks on international affairs by addressing the coup in the Central African Republic.

"I call for an immediate halt to the violence and looting, and a political solution to the crisis to be found as soon as possible," Francis said. "I am closely following what is currently happening in the Central African Republic and wish to assure my prayers for all those who are suffering, especially for the relatives of the victims, the wounded and those who have lost their homes and have been forced to flee."

Francis, born Jose Mario Bergoglio, also urged Catholics to do more to spread their beliefs in his speech, saying it was easy to fall into a "tired and routine way" of worship.

"We should not simply remain in our own secure world, that of the 99 sheep who never strayed from the fold, but we should go out, with Christ, in search of the one lost sheep, however far it may have wandered," Francis said.

Pope Francis was appointed on March 13, after his German-born predecessor Benedict XVI took the unusual step of relinquishing his position.

msh/jr (AFP, AP, dpa)

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