On Holy Thursday, March 29, 2018, Pope Francis visited the Regina Coeli prison in Rome and celebrated the “Last Supper” Mass. During the Mass, he ritually washed the feet of 12 inmates.
It was a poignant and meaningful ceremony held in the historic Rotonda. This is the prison’s central meeting space from which eight corridors lead to the other blocks of this old and historic Roman penal institution. Conventual Franciscan friars from the Italian Province of St. Francis of Assisi (Central Italy) have been doing prison chaplaincy here since 1945. Two friars from Rome’s San Giacomo friary are now serving as chaplains at the prison: Friar Vittorio TRANI (for forty years) and Friar Renzo DEGNI (for a year). Preparing for the visit by the Successor of Peter was intense. However it was done in an atmosphere of confident expectation which involved the collaboration of the Directorate of the Prison, the 900 prisoners currently in residence, the 600 members of the prison police force and the 100 worthy volunteers who help the friars carry out their pastoral activities.
Pope Francis is the fourth Pope to have visited the Regina Coeli prison. He was preceded by John Paul II in 2000, Paul VI in 1964 and John XXIII in 1958.
On his arrival, the Pope was welcomed by the Prison Director, Dr. Silvana SERGI, along with the two chaplains who then brought him over to the prison hospital ward. There, the Pope greeted individual sick prisoners. Next came the celebration of the Mass which included washing the feet of twelve inmates. They represented various nationalities and religions. The group included two Muslims and a Buddhist. The Pope concluded with a visit to prison block seven.
The Pope gave the prisoners the artistic bronze altar upon which he had celebrated the Mass. The altar was created by sculptor Fiorenzo BACCI and depicts Christ bowed among the thorns in the Garden of Olives. It will remain in the historic Rotonda and will be used by the chaplains for Sunday Masses, in remembrance of the papal visit.
Friar Paolo FIASCONARO, San Giacomo Community, Rome