Pope announces special Catholic Church Holy Year on theme of mercy

Fri Mar 13, 2015 1:06pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis announced on Friday the Roman Catholic Church will mark an extraordinary Holy Year, one of its most important events, in which faithful make pilgrimages to Rome and other religious sites around the world.

During the last Holy Year - or Jubilee - in 2000, millions of pilgrims came to Rome to take part in religious festivities throughout the year.

Making the surprise announcement in St. Peter's Basilica on the second anniversary of his election, Francis said the Holy Year will focus on the topic of mercy, one of the most important themes of his papacy.

It will start on Dec. 8 of this year and end on Nov. 20, 2016. This will be only the 29th Holy Year in the Church since the tradition started more than 700 years ago.

Holy Years normally take place every 25 years unless a pope decrees an extraordinary one to bring attention to a particular topic or need. The next one had been scheduled for 2025.

Francis, who says he wants his Church of 1.2 billion members to be more merciful and less rigid towards sinners, said the Jubilee would be an occasion for all members - and the Church itself - to rediscover the need to be forgiving and generous.

"The Church is the home that accepts everyone and refuses no one ... the greater the sin, the greater the love that the Church should show towards those who convert," he said.

During a Holy Year, one of the entrances to St. Peter's Basilica, which is known as the Holy Door and normally bricked up, is opened so pilgrims can pass through it. The Holy Doors of Rome's other basilicas are also opened.   Continued...

Pope Francis' speaks during the penitential celebration in the St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, March 13, 2015. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi