Pope washes feet on Holy Thursday
Rome, Apr 13: Pope Benedict today washed and dried the feet of 12 men at a traditional Holy Thursday service commemorating Christ's gesture of humility to his apostles the night before he died.
The 78-year-old German Pope, approaching the first Easter of his pontificate, said the gesture should be a reminder that everyone is in need of spiritual cleansing.
''It is pride which makes us think that we don't have any need for purification and which locks out the saving goodness of God,'' he said in a homily at a mass in the basilica of St John's in Lateran, his cathedral in his capacity as bishop of Rome.
The Pope, who marks the first anniversary of his election next week, urged his listeners to show humility to others by carrying out good works ''especially for those who are suffering and those who are little esteemed'' by society.
During the service, he bent to pour water over the feet of 12 men and dried each foot with a towel.
Today was the beginning of four hectic days leading up to his first Easter as pontiff.
His predecessor John Paul was in his dying days for all of last year's Easter season and was only able to make brief appearances in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.
John Paul died on April 2, a week after Easter.
At a morning service in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Pope Benedict paid tribute to an Italian priest killed in Turkey two months ago.
''The evils of the world have to be borne and the pain has to be shared,'' he said in a section of his morning mass where he specifically mentioned Father Andrea Santoro.
Santoro was shot dead in his church in Trabzon on Turkey's Black Sea coast on February 5.
A 16-year-old boy was charged with the murder, which local media said was inspired by protests against Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.
At Santoro's funeral in Rome a week later, Italy's most senior cardinal, Camillo Ruini, said the murder had all the makings of a Christian martyrdom and that Santoro should be put on the road to sainthood.
The pontiff, who is due to visit predominantly Muslim Turkey in November, has said in the past he hoped the priest's death would contribute to the cause of dialogue among religions.
Both services today were to mark the day the Roman Catholic Church commemorates when Christ founded the priesthood at his Last Supper on the night before he died.
On Good Friday, he will hold two services commemorating Christ's death, including a Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession around the ancient ruins of Rome's Colosseum.
He says an Easter Eve mass on Saturday night and on Sunday will deliver an ''Urbi et Orbi'' (to the city and the world) blessing and message.