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The Missionary Whose Feet Were Washed

A missionary in China recounts how the mutual washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, during the Easter Triduum, made him realize more deeply the power of Christ’s love that defeated the darkness of evil.

The missionary had been in China for some time as a student but he could not openly celebrate the Eucharist due to the government’s restrictions. For the Easter Triduum he decided to attend the parish celebrations among the people, as a simple faithful. 

On Holy Thursday, after seeing him seated in the pews among the other Catholics, the parish priest invited the missionary to concelebrate the Eucharist with him. When the time came for the meaningful ceremony of the washing of the feet, the parish priest invited the missionary to wash the feet of selected people together with him. There was a great wave of emotion in the assembly as the foreign missionary knelt, washed and kissed the feet of his Chinese brothers. This never-seen-before scene caused many tears to be shed that night. 

At the end of the Eucharist, after hearing some confessions, the missionary took his things and got ready to go home with no one seeing him. “Back to my anonymity”, he thought. 

But outside, a queue of people was waiting for him; in front of them was a stool, a basin, a jar of water and a towel. “You came here from afar to serve us,” the Christians told the missionary. “Now it is our turn to wash your feet, to thank you for what you are doing for us, though in a hidden way!” Overcoming his initial refusal and starting from the older ones, one by one they tenderly washed his feet.

In that moment, all the tension and sadness from being in a complex social, political, and ecclesial situation, forbidden to reveal his true identity and unable to be of real help to anyone, melted away. He felt that those Christians deeply understood the missionary meaning of his presence and of that gesture: “Whoever receives the one I sent receives me,” Jesus said after washing his disciples’ feet (Jn 13:20).

That missionary finally realized that, in the washing of the feet, the power of Christ’s love defeated the darkness of evil that was going to come. In the same way, our reciprocal washing of the feet in obedience to Jesus’ invitation (“You ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow”– Jn 13:14 ) is already the sign of the “new heaven and new earth” brought by His Resurrection, no matter how difficult the situation around us (or inside us) is.  “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.” (Jn 13:17).  

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