Pope Leads Holy Thursday Service

ROME (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI washed the feet of a dozen priests in a Holy Thursday ceremony to symbolize humility and he urged people to set aside any rancor toward others.

There was no noticeable increase in Vatican security - already heavy for the pontiff's public appearances - after the release of an audiotape in which Osama bin Laden accuses the pope of helping in a "new Crusade" against Islam.

Holy Week culminates in an Easter vigil Mass Saturday night in St. Peter's Basilica and Mass on Easter morning in St. Peter's Square. The pope will also preside over a cross-carrying procession Friday night at the Colosseum.

The Holy Thursday ceremony in St. John Lateran Basilica commemorated Jesus' last supper with his 12 apostles on the evening before his Good Friday crucifixion.

In his homily, Benedict described Jesus' washing the feet of his apostles as a purification whose symbolism is still valid today.

"Day after day, we are covered with various kinds of dirtiness, with empty words, with prejudices ... falsehoods," the pontiff said. "All this darkens and contaminates our soul," he said.

"We must wash each other's feet also in the sense that we pardon each other anew," the pope said, adding: "Don't let rancor toward each other poison our soul."

Then the 80-year-old pontiff washed one foot of each of 12, white-robed priests sitting in a row on a raised platform. He poured water from a gold-plated pitcher over each bare foot extended over a basin and, with a white cloth, dabbed the feet dry.

The Vatican said the collection of money at the Holy Thursday Mass will be given to an orphanage in Havana, Cuba.

The pope's Holy Week appearances are among huge crowds of faithful, despite Osama bin Laden's message against the pope posted Wednesday night on a militant Web site. The message raised concerns al-Qaida was plotting new attacks in Europe or that bin Laden was trying to inspire his supporters to violence.

On Thursday, the chief Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, described bin Laden's contention that Benedict had played a role in a worldwide campaign against Islam as "baseless."

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