Letter to Cardinals on inclusion of Women in Foot washing

31 March 2017


Cardinal Oswald Gracias,

President, Conference of Catholic Bishops of India,

Cardinal George Alencherry,

President Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod (SMBS)

Baselios Cardinal Cleemis Catholicos

President, Holy Episcopal Synod – Syro-Malankara Church

Your Eminences,

Re: Including Women and Girls in the Washing of Feet on Maundy Thursday.

The Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM) together with other organizations/individuals

who are co-signatories of this letter come to you with an earnest appeal which has arisen out of our

collective endeavour to discern the will of God for the Catholic Church in India in order that we

may keep growing as an inclusive community of equal disciples in the Lord.

One of the most encouraging signs in the Church in recent times of such inclusiveness and equality

has been the initiative of Pope Francis to include all people of God in the ceremony of the washing

of the feet on Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday falls on 13 April this year and we come to you with

his humble and urgent appeal so that the example set by Pope Francis may become a reality in every

parish in India this year.

For this to happen, the initiative needs to come from you, dear bishop in the form of a clear

instruction/guideline to be given to the parish priests in your communication to them, preferably on

the occasion of the Chrism Mass so that they may be inspired to catechise the laity and implement

this practice in their parishes.

We would like to put on record our appreciation for the dioceses and parishes which have already

implemented this practice last year (2016). It is our prayer that this year more dioceses and parishes

may take this cue and implement this single-most inclusive liturgical practice pioneered by Pope


The Decree on Holy Thursday’s Foot Washing Ceremony dated 06 January 2016 made public the

significant change introduced by Holy Father Francis. The relevant portion of the text reads thus:

In order that the full meaning of this rite might be expressed to those who participate it seemed good to the

Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis to vary the norm which is found in the rubrics of the Missale Romanum (p. 300

n. 11):«The men who have been chosen are led by the ministers…», which therefore must be changed as

follows:«Those who are chosen from amongst the people of God are led by the ministers…»(and

consequently in the Caeremoniali Episcoporum n. 301 and n. 299b: «seats for those chosen»), so that

pastors may select a small group of the faithful to represent the variety and the unity of each part of the

people of God. Such small groups can be made up of men and women, and it is appropriate that they

consist of people young and old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated men and women and laity [retrieved

from https://zenit.org/articles/decree-on-holy-thursdays-foot-washing-ceremony/ on 31/03/2017]

We are of the opinion that the directives given by Holy Father as well as the example that he

himself has set (by including representatives from all walks of life, both men and women in the

ceremony of washing of the feet during Holy Thursday since the year 2013) are powerful

interventions for making the Church visibly and symbolically more inclusive. We as women and

men committed to the vision of equal discipleship in the Church are inspired under the prompting of

the Divine Spirit in our collective and personal discernment to present before you, and other leaders

of the Church in India our humble request that clear instructions may be issued to all the parish

priests and pastors in the respective dioceses exhorting them to implement the exemplary practice of

Pope Francis in the spirit of the above-mentioned directive from the Holy See.

We believe that such a symbolic representation of inclusion liturgically celebrated in parishes and

mass centres across India will have a healing effect especially in the light of the recent instances of

the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church.

We have noted with a sense of concern a news item that appeared in the national press on 29 March

2017 regarding the decision of the Syro Malabar Church regarding this issue. We understand that

the modification suggested by Pope Francis is applicable to the provisions in the Roman Missal and

hence not applicable to the non-Latin Churches. A report in The Hindu Newspaper quoted George

Cardinal Alenchery as giving a clear instruction to the Syro Malabar Church to the effect that in the

Eastern tradition the washing of the feet was reserved for men and boys and therefore the whole of

Syro Malabar Church will continue the practice of including only men and boys for the ceremony of

washing the feet. [http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/syro-malabar-church-sticks-totradition/

article17738865.ece retried on 31/03/2017]

We would like to request the Syro Malabar Synod of Bishops to revisit this directive and look

afresh at the possibility of emulating the esteemed example shown by Pope Francis for the whole

universal Church and include all members of the people of God in the ceremony of washing the feet

on Holy Thursday.

Similarly, we appeal to the Synod of the Syro Malankara Church to kindly issue clear directives to

the pastors and parish priests to include all people of God in the ceremony of the washing of the feet

of Holy Thursday, so that in words and spirit we celebrate the all inclusive love of Christ as

demonstrated by our Spiritual leader Pope Francis.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

Noella D’Souza, MCJ

Convenor, ICWM

Endorsed by:

Streevani, Pune.

Indian Women Theologians Forum,

Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad

Forum of Religious for Justice & Peace

Satyashodak, Mumbai,

Dr. M.T. Joseph SVD