Pope Francis celebrates surprise Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who resigned from his Vatican post last September.
Pope Francis was able to celebrate the service with Becciu after he cancelled his participation in the Vatican’s official Holy Thursday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, delegating it instead to the dean of the College of Cardinals.
The Vatican never explained why Francis was skipping the official service. Francis has traditionally traveled to a prison or refugee center for the Holy Thursday service, which usually involves a foot-washing ritual to symbolize Jesus’ willingness to serve others.
According to a source close to the cardinal, La Repubblica said that the pope celebrated the Mass at around 5:30 p.m. Rome time on April 1 in the chapel of Becciu’s private apartment.
A longtime friend who was in contact with Becciu after the papal visit said the cardinal was “very happy” with the meeting. A Vatican official said he couldn’t confirm Francis’ private initiative but added that “such a gesture of paternity doesn’t seem strange on a day like today, Holy Thursday.”
The visit carried enormous symbolic weight and could suggest Francis may have come to realize he had erred in his handling of the Becciu dossier. Francis has long prized the Holy Thursday service as a ritual of repentance and service.
The Mass would have taken place around the same time as the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals.
The Vatican did not say in advance why the 84-year-old pope opted not to preside at this year’s Mass. Francis did, however, offer the Chrism Mass on Thursday morning in St. Peter’s Basilica.
La Repubblica said that Francis used to visit Becciu every Holy Thursday for lunch with Roman priests and decided to maintain the tradition, even after Becciu dramatically resigned on Sept. 24 as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals.
La Stampa reported that nuns who help to maintain Becciu’s home and members of the Focolare Movement were also present at the Mass.
The Italian newspaper said that the cardinal’s brother, Tonio Becciu, told the ANSA news agency that the cardinal had called him to tell him about the pope’s visit.
“His Holiness went to his apartment in the afternoon and they celebrated Coena Domini [the Mass of the Lord’s Supper] together. We are all very happy. It is really a beautiful thing,” Tonio Becciu was quoted as saying.
The Associated Press reported that Becciu’s private secretary had confirmed that the Mass took place.
Becciu served as “sostituto,” or second-ranking official at the Secretariat of State, from 2011 to 2018, when Pope Francis named him a cardinal and moved him to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
During his tenure in that position, he was linked to a number of financial scandals, most recently the Secretariat’s investment of hundreds of millions of euros with the Italian businessman Rafaelle Mincione and the controversial purchase of a London building.
The financial scandals are the focus of a continuing Vatican investigation that is expected to result in prosecutions.
Becciu has repeatedly maintained his innocence of financial wrongdoing, including at a press conference on the day after his resignation.
“I didn’t commit any crimes,” Becciu told journalists Sept. 25. “I received no communication on the part of the [Vatican] magistrates. I’m ready. If they want me to explain [my actions], I’ll explain.”
“I’m maintaining my serenity,” he said. “I renew my trust in the Holy Father.”
The cardinal described the meeting with the pope and his subsequent resignation as “surreal,” because “yesterday, until 6:02 p.m., I felt I was a friend of the pope, a faithful agent of the pope … and then there, speaking, he tells me that he no longer trusts me.”
“That he no longer trusts me because he had seen reports from the [Vatican] magistrates that I had embezzled,” he said.