Pope Francis Washed the Feet of Muslim Refugees

As a growing number of world leaders call for increased crackdowns on Muslim communities and bans on refugees, Pope Francis has sent a message calling for peace and integration.

In the lead up to Easter celebrations, the pontiff washed and kissed the feet of 12 asylum seekers from Syria, Mali, Eritrea, and Pakistan — a religious ritual typically reserved for Catholic men during observances of the holiest week on the Catholic calendar.

The group included Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, and Coptic Christians.

Pope Francis

"All of us together — Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelical [Protestants] brothers and sisters — children of the same god — we want to live in peace, integrated," Francis said during the Holy Thursday mass on Thursday, which was held at a temporary shelter for asylum seekers outside Rome.

The gesture comes just days after a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels, which Francis called a "gesture of war." In the aftermath of the attacks, which left more than 30 people dead, anti-Muslim sentiment has increased, and politicians, including U.S. Republican presidential contenders, have called for crackdowns and monitoring in Muslim communities.

"We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace," Francis said during the mass.

According to the AP, the foot washing ritual is meant as an homage to Jesus' servitude to his 12 apostles. Pope Francis, who has made his mark as a more openly progressive head of the Catholic church, previously caused ripples within the religious community when he performed the ritual on women and Muslim prisoners in 2013. In January, he loosened regulations to include women in the ritual.

Despite his calls for peace, Francis was nevertheless firm in his condemnation of the Brussels attackers.

"You, we, all of us together, of different religions, different cultures, but children of the same Father, brothers — and there, those poor people, who buy weapons to wreck fraternity," he said.