Washing of women’s feet: silent revolution in Bengal

By Matters India Reporter

Kolkata: For last five years, in some parishes of Diocese of Baruipur, West Bengal, have experienced a silent revolution in a minuscule manner with regard to introducing women as part of the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday.

“Last year, I introduced it in a parish with six men and women each. The parish priest was a bit worried it, but this year he introduced in the parish and in one of the substations were I was appointed a few years ago and it is now accepted,” Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi, a social worker in Bengal, told Matters India.

“There is a mixed reaction to this even in these villages but I once explained the purpose and just aspect of it everyone understands,” he said.

“I just asked a question pointing to the attendance in the church around 20 men when there were 500 women and children. The church was full of women and children and why one should wash the feet of men who occasionally visit the church,” he said.

“Is it right I asked them then in God’s eye all of us are equal? So why should only give importance to men and how can men represent the church?” the priest asked.

They were silent but were with Father Jothi when he told them they have a great respect for mothers and they always touch the feet of the mothers for blessings.

“Should we also wash the feet of the mothers?” They said, “Surly, so I asked the mothers to come forward. The men who were prepared for the occasion also agreed. There were more than six mothers. I told them to let us give equal representation to men too and so six men and mothers each. The work was done without much problem,” said Father Jothi, who is also director of the Jesuit-run Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum in West Bengal.

Besides, the preist also told them that the Pope Francis washed the feet of women who were not even a Catholic. So, it is not a taboo today to give equal importance to women in the church.

The Christian ritual commemorates Jesus washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. He asked his disciples to do what he had done for them. Traditional priests wash the feet of 12 baptized boys or men at the ceremony.

However, the ritual gained new meaning after Pope Francis included people from all walks of life in the ceremony. This change was made public through a document in 2016.

“This equal respect I continued should be in the daily life of every individual in every situation for we are created men and women for we are God’s equal children,” he said.

It is in the rural Diocese of Baruipur in one of the very old parishes of Morapai. The substation is Mograhat. Some 100 km south of Kolkata close to Sundarbans area.

Traditionally it was a Jesuit Parish and missionaries from Europe toiled in this wet terrain and opened the good news of Jesus among rural poor.

One of the great missionaries who worked here and whose name had been sent to the Vatican for the canonization process is Servant of God Jesuit Father Ante Gabric.

“I was the Episcopal delegate of the Bishop who recorded the witnesses and testimonies of those gave witness of his holiness and submitted to the archbishop of Zagreb in Croatia,” Father Jothi said.

In Bengal, women are respected as mother and every religion pays respect to mother Mary just like Maa Durga and Kali (Hindu goddesses). Washing of the feet of women in mothers’ status once clarified the significance is welcomed by men and women equally, said Jothi, convener of the Right to Food campaign in the state.

“One needs to educate our Catholics in this aspect just like in any other teachings of greater importance. This introduction of women in the washing of the feet would hopefully take women to another level of equal respect in daily life too. The catechist and the nuns were hesitant but I was willing to convince the people and there was a happy ending,” Father Jothi said.

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2 thoughts on “Washing of women’s feet: silent revolution in Bengal

  1. The resurrected JESUS will be very happy to see this new revolution in the Christian Church. Even though JESUS was their Master, HE washed the feet of the disciples.

    The great Hindu Swami Vivekananda didn’t wash the feet of his disciples; he served them food while he was getting closer to death. When the disciples asked him why he was doing that, then he quoted that JESUS washed the feet of the disciples, let me serve you some food at least.

    The foot washing must be incorporated into the daily lives in our families and society; thus an attitude of humility and surrender-crucifying our egotism and pride of life. How humble and service minded we must be towards other people who are sub-ordinates to us in the daily life! The foot washing is a symbolic action to teach us, how we must be practical people bearing this act.

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