Despite Change in Tradition, 'Patriarchal' Indian Church Won't Wash Women's Feet

Worldwide women will be included in the feet-washing ceremony for the first time but Indian Catholic women may have to wait a bit longer.

Published: 20th March 2016 05:29 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th March 2016 09:10 AM   |  A+A-

NEW DELHI: This Maundy Thursday will open a new chapter for Christian women all over the world as they, for the first time in the 2,000-year long history of Christianity, will be officially included in the feet-washing ceremony. But some Catholic women in India may have to wait a bit longer as the ‘patriarchal’ Indian church still has some reservations to wash their feet.

While some sections of Catholics have agreed to the change, there is some resistance among the churches which follow Eastern tradition against washing the feet of women, a ceremony where priest will wash the feet of 12 lay people on Maundy Thursday, remembering the incident when Jesus Christ had washed the feet of his 12 disciples.

“We have been following certain traditions for centuries and what is the need for this change?” wondered a priest belonging to the Zero Malabar church, one of the Eastern churches.

According to a priest belonging to the Zero Malabar church, one of the Eastern churches, mixing up feminism and religion is “unnecessary”. There are many who think on these lines and have written to the Pope expressing their line of thinking.

“Cardinal Alenchery had written to Vatican seeking clarification. We have got a reply which states that Eastern churches, which include Zero Malabar and Zero Malankara, need not follow the new Vatican order if they are not happy with the change,” said the priest.

Pope Francis had earlier last month directed the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to change the term “12 men” to “people of God”. “For the first time, women too could be part of the group whose feet are washed as per the new circular,” said the circular.

Following the Pope’s order, the Indian church had issued a circular. Signed by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the president of Conference of Catholic Bishops of India—the circular said the group could include “men and women, and it is appropriate that they consist of people young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and lay people.”

 It said the new regulation also does not put restrictions on the number of people selected for washing the feet but simply stated “the pastor may select a small group of the faithful”. The circular, issued last week, also directed to discuss issues in pastoral council if pastors faced resistance to the change and get the council’s assistance in deciding the group’s composition. So, only those Indian churches that follow the Latin tradition has to wash the feet of women.

“While the Catholic community the world over is changing its mores to bring in gender equality, it is a sad thing that Indian Catholic churches are looking the other side,” said Philomena Xavier, a Christian gender activist.

According to her, Pope Francis himself on the first Maundy Thursday service after his election had washed the feet of several inmates of a prison in Rome. Now he has issued the circular signalling a new beginning in gender equality. “If Pope can wash the feet of women, why not the priests,’’ she asked.

According to her, women in the catholic community should question this and should write to Vatican to make their voice heard.

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