Washing of women’s feet: Silent revolution in Bengal

For the last five years, some parishes of the 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.

Apr 06, 2018

KOLKATA: For the last five years, some parishes of the 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, but this year, he introduced it in the parish and in one of the substations where I was appointed a few years ago, it is now accepted,” said Jesuit Fr Irudaya Jothi, a social worker in Bengal.

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

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

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

They were silent but were with Fr 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, “Surely, 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 six mothers each. The work was done without much problem,” said Fr Jothi, who is also director of the Jesuit-run Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum in West Bengal.

Besides, the priest also told them that Pope Francis washed the feet of women who were not even 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 baptised 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 should be in the daily life of every individual in every situation for we are created men and women, we are God’s equal children,” he said.

In Bengal, women are respected as mother and every religion pays respects to Mother Mary, just like Maa Durga and Kali (Hindu goddesses). Washing of the feet of mothers 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,” Fr Jothi said. -- mattersindia.com

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