BEIRUT — Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, washed and kissed the feet of 12 prisoners during a Holy Thursday Mass in Roumieh, Lebanon's largest prison, north of Beirut.
The April 17 Mass was held in the courtyard of the prison. Lebanese and papal flags draped the building's exterior.
The 12 Christian male inmates who had their feet washed by Cardinal Rai were chosen by the chaplains of the prison. They included all ages, from young adults to older men.
Kneeling before each inmate, the 74-year-old cardinal tenderly washed, dried and kissed their feet. Some of the inmates, visibly holding back tears, also reached for and held the hand of the cardinal after he kissed their feet.
During his homily, Cardinal Rai cited the Gospel of St. Matthew: "I was ... in prison and you visited me." He called for the necessary reforms in Lebanon's prison system.
The cardinal stressed the human dignity of each prisoner and the love of God for them. He called on each prisoner to repent and look forward to a better future.
"We assure you of our prayers," Cardinal Rai told the prisoners, "and we ask Christ the redeemer, the risen one, to give you the grace of a resurrection ... through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary."
The 12 prisoners also led the prayers of the faithful.
The Mass was attended by priests, nuns, laypeople, government and security officials. Among those concelebrating with Cardinal Rai was Bishop Samir Mazloum, president of the Maronite bishops' justice and peace commission.
Roumieh prison, known for being overcrowded and for frequent uprisings, has approximately 4,000 inmates.