Women celebrate “washing the feet” outside church
By Matters India Reporter
Kottayam: An ecumenical feminist group on April 11 organized a foot-washing ritual at a home for battered women and children in Kottayam, a Christian-majority town in Kerala.
The program was organized after two Oriental Catholic rites decided to restrict the feet-washing ritual to 12 men or boys. The ritual on Holy Thursday, which falls on April 13 this year, commemorates Jesus washing the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper.
Kochurani Abraham, a Catholic feminist theologian and a member of Women’s Lives Matter (WLM), said they held the ritual outside the boundaries of churches “to affirm their dignity as human persons and to share with them the vision of kinship initiated by Jesus.”
The WLM included women and people of marginalized groups for the ritual at Swanthanam (consolation) that houses battered women and children from different Indian states of and religions. They invited some public people to witness the program.
Abraham said the April 11 ceremony was inspired by Pope Francis’ initiative. “The foot washing ritual was a means of taking the message of forgiveness, acceptance and mutual care outside the boundaries of the church’s ritual worship,” she said. She hoped the celebration would help the ecclesiastical leadership to revisit their earlier decision to stick to tradition.
The celebration began with the members of WLM washing the feet of 12 inmates of the centre, followed by children washing the feet of elders and then each other. Susan Thomas, Kochurani Abraham, Sheeba Tharakan, Jessy John and Jaisy Karingattil of WLM led the ceremony.
Abraham said their purpose was to share the “grace from this gesture of Jesus Christ with a public beyond the confines of the Churches, where women and others excluded.” The move aims to make the excluded community become mediators of the grace. “So, outside the liturgy and its politics of exclusion, we simply want to celebrate an inclusive gesture, which we believe is the ‘politics of the Reign of God’ and we want others to celebrate this as well,” she explained.
The LWM that meets every month at Kottayam is expected to become a movement spreading to parts of Kerala. Its unit in Changanacherry, another town some 20 km south of Kottayam, has joined protesting against a liquor joint and throwing of waste.
The Washing the Feet ritual became the focus of attention after Pope Francis, instead of confining it to men and boys, included people from all walks of life, both men and women, young and old, in the ceremony from 2013 onwards.
In spite of this change being made public through the document ‘Decree on Holy Thursday’s foot Washing Ceremony’ in January 2016, the Syro Malabar Church had taken the stance that it would stick to the tradition and had issued directives to that effect.
The Syro-Malankara Church, the smaller of the Oriental rite, too plans to sticks to the tradition.