Washing of the feet at Portland’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Posted March 28, 2013, at 5:16 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Priests, parishioners and community members gathered at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at noon Thursday for a ritual washing of feet as part of Holy Week observances. The ceremony echoed Jesus humbly washing his disciples’ feet before the Last Supper.

The service aimed to raise awareness about community members’ struggles with poverty, homelessness and injustice. Personal stories of unemployment, lack of health care insurance as well as tales of immigrants escaping violence in their home nations were read aloud while the foot washing took place at the front of the church.

The text from five of those stories, provided by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, follows.

• One Sudanese family escaped the killings occurring in their country and fled to the Ethiopian border. With few provisions, they traveled on foot. Along the way, a group attacked the family and two of the children were taken, never to be seen again. The remaining members of the family now live in the Portland area.

• A local single woman was a full-time student before recently becoming pregnant. Rhe young woman decided to keep the child and left school but now does not have a job to support herself. She is trying to find a way to meet the child’s basic needs.

• The Sudanese government gathered all professionals and intellectuals in one area. They were placed on a boat, tied and bound. They were pushed overboard into a river to drown. One man was thrown overboard into a more shallow area of the river and remained under water until the boat was out of sight. He remained in the river for almost two days before being rescued by a fisherman. He now lives in the Portland area.

• A husband, wife and their grandson suffered a fire at their new home in the area but did not have insurance as the house was not yet completed. They are left to rebuild with two Social Security Disability checks totaling $1,200 per month. The husband was burned in the fire and the wife has cancer. The community is trying to help with food, clothes and a temporary place to stay. They are now trying to find more permanent housing.

• A husband left his wife and two small children and took the only vehicle. The single mother now walks three to four miles per day to get to appointments and to the local grocery store. Her old stroller has broken because of the weight of groceries and she needs a new stroller.