The Catholic Church kicked off the Jubilee Year of Mercy today, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, with the opening of the Holy Door by Pope Francis. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was also present for the ceremony.
More than 10 million pilgrims are expected to pass through the bronze door, which is usually sealed, during the 12-month period. This jubilee calls on Catholics to reflect on the theme of mercy.
Holy doors will also be opened at cathedrals around the world starting Sunday, for the first time during a Jubilee of Mercy. An extra 5,000 security officers were deployed around Rome, and a no-fly zone has been imposed to protect the arriving pilgrims. People had to go through metal detectors to attend Tuesday's ceremony.
The pope also celebrated a special Mass in St. Peter's Square before an estimated 50,000 people.
Leading the crowd in prayer, he said: "You cannot conceive of a true Christian who is not merciful, just as you cannot conceive of God without his mercy. Mercy is the key word of the Gospel. ... We should not be afraid: We should allow ourselves to be embraced by the mercy of God, who waits for us and forgives everything.”
The Jubilee Year of Mercy has so far been marked by Pope Francis' announcement that ordinary priests would be able to lift the latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication that is incurred by procuring an abortion. The pontiff also attempted to reach out to the schismatic group Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), saying that confessions heard by priests in that order were both licit and valid. (SSPX, however, insisted that this had always been the case.)
The jubilee year will continue until November 20, 2016.