Pope Francis was set to wash the feet of former mafiosi on Thursday in a prison known for housing collaborators of justice who inform on old mobster allies.
During the closed-door visit to Paliano prison outside Rome, the 80-year-old pontiff was expected to kneel before a small group of inmates, pour water over their feet, dry them with a towel and bend to kiss them in an age-old Easter tradition.
The inmates include some 50 former mafiosi who made a deal to provide anti-mafia prosecutors with information in exchange for shorter prison sentence, the chaplain prison said.
"Everyone has the right to make a mistake. We have all been mistaken in one way or another," Pope Francis said in reference to prisoners in an interview published on Thursday in Italy’s Repubblica newspaper ahead of the ceremony.
The Argentine went on to lament "the little trust placed in rehabilitation, in reintegration into society".
The rite, performed yearly on Maundy or Holy Thursday, commemorates Jesus Christ’s Last Supper with the apostles.
According to the Christian tradition, Jesus is said to have washed the aposteles’ feet ahead of the meal in a gesture of humility.
In 2014 Pope Francis excommunicated members of the mafia, which he called "the adoration of evil and contempt for common good".
Thursday’s ceremony is part of the run-up to Easter Sunday.
Since his election in 2013, the pope has moved the feet washing ceremony outside the walls of the Vatican and into centres for vulnerable people or those on society’s margins.
In his first year he visited a youth detention centre where he performed the ritual on a group of young inmates including two Muslims – the first Catholic leader ever to do so.
In 2014 he washed the feet of elderly and disabled people, in 2015 he visited a prison and last year he chose a migrant reception centre.