NEW ORLEANS (RNS) — The ritual of washing feet has a deep-seated tie to Holy Week, a symbol of the humility Jesus showed in performing the act for His disciples the day before His death.
Craig Taffaro, president of St. Bernard Parish, La., took that custom into the workplace April 1, going around the government complex throughout the day to wash the feet of willing employees.
“As the chief executive officer of St. Bernard Parish Government, I thought it was an appropriate gesture to show that I am as humbled as any other sinner in the world, so much so that I would offer to wash the feet of the employees,” Taffaro said.
Taffaro did not publicize his actions. A reporter was alerted to the matter by several phone calls from people who had heard from government employees whose feet were washed.
The incident does touch on the line drawn between church and state, as well as the delicate relationship between boss and employee.
The American Civil Liberties Union responded on April 5 with a letter from Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman reminding Taffaro that the Constitution prohibits government officials from imposing religious practices on employees at the workplace. Esman said the ACLU trusts he will refrain from further religious practices in the workplace.
affaro said employees were not pressured to let him wash their feet and the vast majority accepted the offer.
“If they wanted to participate, they could. If they didn’t, no problem,” said Taffaro, who is Catholic. “I didn’t keep a list or anything like that.”
The feet-washing ritual is often incorporated into Catholic and other Christian ceremonies the Thursday of Holy Week, known as Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday. The Gospel of John describes Jesus washing the feet of His disciples at the time of the Last Supper.
St. Bernard Parish Councilman Wayne Landry said he did not see the ritual performed, but heard about it from employees when he arrived at the government complex that afternoon. He said a few employees told him they felt uncomfortable with the way it was done.
“Perhaps had it been an invited thing for whoever wanted to come, maybe those types of comments I received would have been avoided,” Landry said. “On the other side, I certainly wouldn’t want to diminish the good will that was exhibited by the president in the spirit of Easter. I believe his intentions were good.”
— Chris Kirkham/The Times-Picayune and Kimberlee Hauss/RNS
© 2010 Religion News Service. Used with permission.