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Indian priest washes feet of women for 3 decades on Maundy Thursday

An Indian priest in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has been washing the feet of marginalized people including women for the last 30 years on Maundy Thursday.

Father A. Anthony Packiam (62), parish priest of Christ the King Church, Melur, under the Archdiocese of Madurai, started the washing the feet of poor people and women in 1989, three years after his priestly ordination.

Traditionally, the washing of the feet of men practiced since time immemorial, commemorating the washing of the feet of the apostles by Jesus during the Last Supper.

In 2013, Pope Francis included women in his celebration of the Holy Thursday rite when he washed the feet of juvenile offenders in Rome. 

This year, Father Packiam washed the feet of an elderly widow (85), an old man (80), a mentally challenged girl (10), a dumb man (60), a physically ill woman (60), a physically challenged boy (11), a young widow (30), a visually challenged man (52), a transgender (23), a sanitation worker (60), an orphan girl (7), and a deaf man (60) during the Holy Thursday ritual in his parish on April 14. 

“I have included women in the feet-washing rite on Holy Thursday since I became parish priest in 1989,” he said.

He has served the Archdiocese of Madurai for the last 36 years.

Father Packiam finished his theology at St. Paul’s Regional Seminary, Trichy, Tamil Nadu.  

When asked why he included women in feet-washing on Maundy Thursday, he said that during his theological studies, some professors who taught Christology (study on Christ) and Prophets inspired him. 

“My professors have deeply influenced me and in my pastoral ministry,” the priest said.

Besides, in those days, one of the prevalent trends was “Liberation theology.” “We all were interested in it. We were called into initiative liberation theology in Indian reality,” he recalled.   

“My initiatives of including women and the poor people primarily came from the life and ministry of Jesus who had always a concern for the people who are at the periphery,” Father Packiam explained.

The feet-washing event should inspire people to work for vulnerable people’s rights, dignity, and equality in society, he said.

“That is the core of Jesus’ mission and the Church exists to create social consciousness and awareness on prophetic role Jesus showed and lived,” Father Packiam said. 

Father A. Anthony Packiam (Photo by RVA News)

In his earlier appointments as a parish priest, there were people of different castes and classes. They were divided on caste and social status lines. 

To bring the people together and foster solidarity and inclusion, he started several pious associations so that they can participate in and organize events and programs for others under the banner of the parish. 

Over time, he guided them to have an inclusive mind and openness to each other putting aside all other social differences, but be united in Christ’s name. 

Once they were spiritually and pastorally guided, the priest started the unconventional feet-washing rite including women.

In the beginning, he washed the feet of 12 children (both genders) who came from different castes and classes on Maundy Thursday. Gradually, he repeated the practice in all parishes he served. 

“The key message of feet-washing is that we serve each other and have great concern for people who are at the periphery. We need to work for their rights, dignity, and equality,” Father Packiam said. - With additional reporting by Anbu Selvam

 

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Comments

டயானா சேவியர், Apr 26 2022 - 10:36pm
இயேசு சொன்ன விடுதலையே உங்களிடம் நாங்கள் பலமுறை பாத்திருக்கிறோம் உங்களோடு சமகாலத்தில் நாங்கள் வாழ்வது எங்களுக்கு பெரும் மகிழ்ச்சி .நற் செய்திகளை வாசித்து காட்டாமல் வாழ்ந்து காட்டும் உங்களைப் போன்றவர்களால் தான் ஆடுகளாகிய நாங்கள் விடுதலை பெறுகின்றோம் விடுதலை அரசியலையும் விடுதலை இறையியலையும் காண்கிறோம். உங்களை தந்தையாக பெற்ற நாங்கள் விடுதலைக்கான இறையியலை நாங்கள் கொண்டு வருவோம் என்ற நம்பிக்கை உள்ளது நன்றி தந்தை பாக்கியம் அவர்களுக்கு
Fr. Russel Raj, OCD, Apr 26 2022 - 11:59pm
Thank you RVA for this inspiring and motivating news about the washing of the feet ceremony by Rev. Fr. Antony.Packiam of Madurai Archdiocese. I had the privilege of joining his Maundy Thursday service last year 2021. He is a commited and convinced priest. May God bless and protect such holy priests.
James Jayaraj, Apr 27 2022 - 5:16pm
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Alexis S, Apr 27 2022 - 10:37pm
Fr. Antony Packiam lives the real Christ life. During his sermon he takes the people by comparing the present political life to the Jesus period. During Lent days every Sunday he used to take people to the neighbouring village and conduct way of cross and thereby expose the parishers to realise their life. He loves and cares poor people. Even he hugged leprosy people after the Holy mass. This type of priests should be given importance and brought forward to lead the society. Christianity is for service, he is proving. Anyway Father's life is exposed to the public. Thank you.
Alexis s, Apr 27 2022 - 10:45pm
Fr. not only washing the legs he also ask the like-minded people to do the same. Fr. is exemplary in his service and also in giving sermon