Pope Francis changes Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual to include women

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Pope Francis attends a visit to the RomeÕs synagogue on January 17, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  The visit marks the third time a pontiff has been invited to the synagogue, following on from the visit by Benedict XVI in January 2010 and the historic encounter of Pope John Paul II with former Rabbi Elio Toaff there in 1986.  (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Pope Francis attends a visit to the RomeÕs synagogue on January 17, 2016 in Rome, Italy. The visit marks the third time a pontiff has been invited to the synagogue, following on from the visit by Benedict XVI in January 2010 and the historic encounter of Pope John Paul II with former Rabbi Elio Toaff there in 1986. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has declared that women should be included in foot-washing ceremonies on Holy Thursday during Easter week, a move long awaited by Western women.

The Vatican announced the change Thursday, saying it will now be part of the Roman Missal, the book that guides Catholic liturgy throughout the world. It should take effect on Holy Thursday, March 24.

Previously, the Missal said that only men and boys should participate in the foot-washing ritual, which memorializes Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.

But in a letter to the Vatican’s head of worship and sacraments, the Pope said including women in the rite expresses more fully Jesus’ gesture at the Last Supper: “His giving of himself unto the end for the salvation of the world, his limitless charity.”

While some dioceses in the United States and elsewhere already allowed women to participate in the rite, many others did not, said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author.

Pope Francis included women in his celebration of the Holy Thursday rite in 2013 when he washed the feet of juvenile offenders in Rome and the next year at a center for the elderly and disabled.

Those gestures, though, have disturbed some conservatives, who say the Pope is trampling on Catholic traditions and flouting church laws. Perhaps hearing those concerns, Francis simply changed the law.