Pope Francis led the first of two major Holy Thursday ceremonies, presiding at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica as he continues his stamina-testing Holy Week appointments days after battling bronchitis in the hospital.
The pope’s voice sounded strong during the basilica Mass as he read a long homily during the service, which was dedicated to the theme of the priesthood . Francis, who is 86, was discharged five days earlier from a Rome hospital, where he received antibiotics administered intravenously.
Inmates at a juvenile prison on Rome’s outskirts awaited the pontiff later in the day for Mass and the foot-washing ritual that commemorates the final supper of Jesus before crucifixion.
It is the same juvenile facility where Francis carried out the foot-washing — a powerful symbol of humility and priestly service to others — shortly after being elected pontiff in 2013.
From the start, Francis has used his papacy to stress attention to those living on society’s margins, including those in prison.
When the pope was released from the hospital on Saturday, the Vatican said Francis would carry out the complete Holy Week schedule, including the Good Friday late-night Way of the Cross procession at Rome’s Colosseum and Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
At Thursday’s basilica Mass, dozens of rows of priests in simple white cassocks sat in front of rank-and-file Catholics in the packed church.
Francis used the homily as a pep talk to priests, after decades of scandals involving sex abuse of children by clergy caused many faithful to lose trust in their pastors.
The pope didn’t cite the scandals or church hierarchy coverups. But, he spoke of “crisis” affecting priests.
“Sooner or later, we all experience disappointment, frustration and our own weaknesses,” Francis said. “Our ideals seem to recede in the face of reality, a certain force of habit takes over, and the difficulties that once seemed unimaginable appear to challenge our fidelity.”
The basilica ceremony traditionally includes the blessing of ointments and priests’ renewal of promises made when they were ordained to the priesthood.
Highlighting the spirit of renewal that the pope indicated the priesthood needs, added to the ointments at this year’s Mass was bergamot perfume that came from trees in southern Italy on land confiscated by authorities from mobsters.
In off-the-cuff remarks during the homily, Francis admonished priests not to “forget being pastors of the people.”