The humility and compassion of Christ were in action at the corner of Third Street and Van Buren in downtown Phoenix on Holy Thursday.

Passing motorists and visitors to the busy streetcorner took in an unexpected sight: Volunteers, many of them religious sisters, were washing people’s feet under a large shade canopy emblazoned with the Diocese of Phoenix logo.

Fr. John Muir, pastor of St. Mary’s Basilica who also serves as Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the diocese, stood on the corner alongside Deacon Billy Chavira.

“There is a sacramental quality to almost everything that the Church does,” Fr. Muir said.

“We wouldn’t say that the washing of the feet is a sacrament with a capital ‘S’ but it is a sacrament with a small ‘s’. It is a sign of tender, humble love and it opens your heart to the love of God in a new way — that’s what the Church means by a sacramental. It’s a symbol of that deep cleansing that God’s love has on us — but it doesn’t impose. So, it’s not like we are grabbing people and saying, ‘We’re going to wash your feet’ because it’s always an invitation.”

So where did the idea of a pop-up foot washing service originate?

Fr. Muir credited Deacon Chavira of the basilica with the idea.

“On Holy Thursday we have a foot washing ceremony that we do [as part of the Mass] inside the Church, but he said, ‘why don’t we also do this out in the street?’ This is what we want to do at the basilica — show that humility and willingness to be out there and bring God’s love to the world. It is such a tangible thing too —a powerful symbol.”

The washing of the feet also has a way of highlighting the meekness of Christ.

“The feet symbolize what is lowest in us —usually our feet are covered up in shoes and in the ancient world they were covered in dirt and dust,” Fr. Muir said. Washing a person’s feet “was something reserved for the lowest slaves, so to think that Jesus, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, that the Son of God would humble himself in that way – it’s shocking!”

Sr. Georgina Severin was one of the many volunteers who came out to evangelize. As a consecrated religious sister in the community of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, she has devoted her life’s work to the service of those who are poor.

“There was a man who was wearing a veteran’s cap and so I asked him if he was a veteran — he said yes. He had served in Iraq and he was here to have his feet washed. I had the privilege of doing that,” Sr. Georgina said. “He was not resistant, but open and he seemed excited. As I was washing his feet, we talked about the foot washing as being a sort of cleansing, a chance to pray together and be together, a new start. [After,] he seemed like he was in a really hopeful place. That was uplifting for me and I feel grateful for the chance to encounter him.”

Jesus taught us “blessed are the poor” because the poor are less likely to suffer from the pride of independence or think they can get by without the help of their brothers and sisters. True Gospel poverty is not equivalent to destitution, as some may think. Rather it is “blessed to be poor” because it frees us for radical openness to receive the Kingdom of God. To wash another’s feet is an act of humility and charity that the Lord Jesus himself exemplifies for us.

It takes great humility to receive this gift from another. When approached by Jesus, Peter himself said, “You will never wash my feet.” (Jn, 13:8) So too, volunteer foot-washers found more often that it was those who knew they were in need, such as unsheltered individuals, who were willing to let themselves be washed.

Sometimes receiving love is just as hard as giving it. Like St. Peter, Cassy Beltran, a graduate student at Thunderbird School of Business and parishioner at Holy Spirit Newman Center, found herself in a different role than she expected. Having come to wash the feet of others, she ended up having her own feet washed by a stranger.

“It was really beautiful,” she said. “My feet get beat up all the time because I play soccer, so it was super refreshing. Sometimes we forget that we are worthy of being served.”

“It’s been really nice, just seeing the people who stop by and get a little bit curious about what’s going on,” she continued.

“I love this kind of stuff — just being out here representing the Church on a corner where people can see us —talking to random people and telling them about how the Lord has changed my life.”

The Diocese of Phoenix evangelization team, led by Joyce Coronel, worked hard in the weeks prior to the Holy Thursday outreach effort to assemble over 1,500 St. Benedict crucifixes, hundreds of Miraculous Medal necklaces, and more than 1,000 rosaries. Each item was blessed and bagged with accompanying holy card pamphlets to instruct the unfamiliar in the powerful nature of praying with sacramentals. Volunteers handed out these gifts liberally to those passing by who were willing to receive them.

Unsheltered individuals who had their feet washed received a clean pair of new socks and holy card from volunteers.

The Diocese of Phoenix evangelization team will hit the streets again April 5-8 in front of St. Mary’s Basilica to reach out to NCAA Final Four basketball enthusiasts who will be visiting the Phoenix Convention Center for a fan festival.

Information: or 480-239-6768.

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