THE Pope Francis, who appeared to have fully recovered from bronchitis, began a grueling four-day run-up to Easter on Maundy Thursday by urging priests to “avoid inciting division in the Church” while also washing the feet of 12 young inmates in a juvenile prison in the context of the Ceremony of the Washbasin.

On Maundy Thursday, Francis, along with dozens of cardinals and bishops and about 1,800 priests, gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica to renew the vows they took at their ordination.

Later, the pontiff traveled to the prison of Casal del Marmo, on the outskirts of Rome, where he washed and kissed the feet of 12 young prisoners in a gesture of remembrance of Jesus’ humility towards his apostles the night before his death.

From that prison, shortly after his election in 2013, Francis began holding the traditional event in prisons, homes for the elderly and the homeless instead of priests in Rome’s cathedrals, as his predecessors had done. He is also the first Pope to wash the feet of women and non-Catholics. One prisoner at Thursday’s service was a Muslim from Senegal. Two were women.

“Any of us can make a mistake”he told the inmates in a short impromptu speech.

Francis, 86, spent four days in hospital last week being treated for bronchitis after complaining of breathing difficulties. He recovered quickly by receiving antibiotics.

“Many times we priests are rude” admitted Francis during the morning Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. He noted that people who “seek spiritual peace and tranquility in their lives will continue to distance themselves from the Church and view it with suspicion if they see it wallowing in internal discord, finger-pointing and cold criticism.”

“Priests must seek harmony if they want to win back the believers who have been deprived” was his message.

Apart from an occasional cough during the nearly two-hour Mass, Francis read his homily in a clear, powerful voice for 20 minutes. He called on priests not to live a “double life” or turn into “bureaucrats of the Church” looking for promotions with privileges and not to yearn for a past when the Church was more self-centered. “Let us think of the kindness of the priests. If people see even us as disgruntled old bachelors who criticize and point fingers, where else are they going to find harmony?’ he wondered.

“How many people cannot approach us or keep a distance, because in the Church they feel unwelcome and unloved, because they are viewed with suspicion and judged?’ he added.