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Pope Francis celebrates Holy Thursday ahead of foot-washing ritual

Pope Francis blows in an amphora containing holy oil during the Holy Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday, on April 18, 2019 at St Peter's basilica in Vatican. - Maundy Thursday is the Christian holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter, commemorating the Maundy and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles, as described in the canonical gospels. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP) (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis ushered in the most solemn period in the Catholic liturgical calendar by celebrating a Holy Thursday Mass and the ritual washing of the feet, made more poignant this year following the devastation of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Chrism Mass celebrates the unity of priests with their bishops. During Thursday’s service in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis blessed the holy oils that will be used over the course of the year in the administration of sacraments.

In his homily, Francis stressed that when priests use the oil, they are distributing their vocation and heart to the people of God.

“We anoint by dirtying our hands in touching the wounds, the sins and the worries of the people,” he said. “We anoint by perfuming our hands in touching their faith, their hopes, their fidelity and the unconditional generosity of their self-giving.”

Pope Francis holds the book of the gospels during the Holy Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday, on April 18, 2019 at St Peter’s basilica in Vatican. – Maundy Thursday is the Christian holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter, commemorating the Maundy and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles, as described in the canonical gospels. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP) (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

This year, the final days of Holy Week — which for Catholics commemorates Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection — has taken on particular resonance following the fire at Notre Dame, a symbol of French Catholicism.

Francis has offered his condolences repeatedly to the French faithful, and French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that during a call to Francis after the blaze, he had invited the pontiff to visit Paris. On Wednesday, Francis fielded a call from U.S. President Donald Trump offering the sympathy of the American people over the loss, the Vatican spokesman said.

Pope Francis (L) leads alongside Monsignor Guido Marini, Papal Master of Ceremonies, the Holy Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday, on April 18, 2019 at St Peter’s basilica in Vatican. – Maundy Thursday is the Christian holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter, commemorating the Maundy and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles, as described in the canonical gospels. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP) (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

Later Thursday, Francis travels outside Rome to Velletri, where he will celebrate the ritual foot-washing ceremony at a prison. Francis has frequently chosen to wash the feet of prisoners during the Holy Thursday ritual, which re-enacts Christ’s washing the feet of his disciples, in a bid to show his willingness to serve even those on the farthest margins of society.

On Friday, he presides over the Way of the Cross procession at Rome’s Colosseum re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion, followed by the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday in a flower-decked St. Peter’s Square.

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