Holy Thursday: Cardinal Cupich washes feet of Venezuelan refugees

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Thursday, April 20, 2023

Holy Thursday: Cardinal Cupich washes feet of Venezuelan refugees

Cardinal Cupich washes the feet of Venezuelan refugees on Holy Thursday, April 6, 2023 at Holy Name Cathedral. The symbolic act of feet washing imitates the example of Jesus at the Last Supper who washed the feet of the 12 disciples as a gesture of His servitude, humility and love to all. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners sing during the opening procession. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Stephanie McIntyre swings the incenser as Deacon Dennis Robak carries the Gospel during a procession to the ambo. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Ken Simpson gives the homily. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich washes the feet of Venezuelan refugees on Holy Thursday, April 6, 2023 at Holy Name Cathedral. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich greets the refugees following the feet washing. Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cristian Garcia, a seminarian at Mundelein Seminary, also had his feet washed on Holy Thursday by Cardinal Cupich. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Charlene Soby reads the Universal Prayer in Polish. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich accepts the gifts. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The congregation prays during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Servers lead a procession around the aisles of the cathedral at the end of Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Louis Cameli and Father Robert Fedek join the procession. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich carries the Eucharist through the aisles of the cathedral towards the Altar of Repose, where it will remain “entombed” until the communion service on Good Friday. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners pray as the procession moves through the cathedral aisles. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Anderson and José, two of 12 Venezuelan refugees who had their feet washed by Cardinal Cupich during Holy Thursday Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, said the symbolic act that imitates the example of Jesus at the Last Supper was a new and emotional experience.

In their home country, they said, the tradition of washing feet on Holy Thursday is not observed.

“It’s like a deluge of mixed feelings, because I hadn’t experienced anything like that,” Anderson said after the Mass. “I had only been present at Masses, in a normal way, at Easter as a parishioner. But it had never happened to me that the cardinal offered to wash my feet.”

Since the men arrived in Chicago on buses, they have found support through Catholic Charities and the wider Catholic community, but it has been anything but easy.

“At first it was like a 360-degree turn, getting used to a new culture, well, not just one, but multiple cultures,” Anderson said. “Getting to know a little more about what Chicago is, its history. Having a new experience in the sense that you have to learn both the language and how to express yourself.”

Catholic Charities arranged for the refugees to participate in the foot washing. Both men said the agency has supported them in many ways and they are grateful to the agency and to God.

“Because the truth is, I have a lot to thank God for,” Anderson said. “We arrived thanks to God, and we precisely coincided in the sense that I arrived at a church, at San Jerome, and I met Father Noel and there I met Mrs. Marilú [Gonzalez] and found José. We, José and I, have been friends for years and it was like, not like everything was written, but we met together in the churches.”

The Catholic Church has come through for them, both said.

“The church never abandoned us. Despite all the difficulties, the church never gave up on us in that regard,” Anderson said.

It is difficult to say just how many refugees from Central America have made their way to Chicago in recent months, said Marilú Gonzalez, Catholic Charities’ regional operations director for the city southwest.

While many have come on buses sent from Texas, others have come in different ways and have connected with the agency for help, and they keep arriving, Gonzalez said. A committee formed to facilitate relationships between Catholic Charities’ staff who work with refugees and parishes wanting to help is also working with them.

“The barriers and the challenges are great because literally, again, it’s language, it’s culture, it’s movement,” Gonzalez said. “It’s all of the things that we perhaps take for granted, but for them, it’s completely a new reality. And the parishes do play an important role in that. And it is part of our own way of loving your neighbor, which is what we celebrate today, right?”

The refugees are at different stages of the settling in process depending on when they arrived here, and people should keep that in mind, she said. Refugees who have been here three months are still struggling to figure out how to maneuver in this new culture and place, for example.

“If you’ve only been here for three months and you don’t have the support of family and you don’t have the support of anybody else’s extended family, which is something that we all have here in some way, it is difficult,” Gonzalez said. “Then you have those that have been here for eight months and they’re a little bit more acclimated, but at the same time still cautious, which I think is something I can say for all of them.”

They are not sure who to trust and who will guide them safely through the process. “That’s why they seek the church,” she said. “Keep them in prayer. They need it.”


  • refugees
  • holy thursday

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