Pope Francis pushed open the great bronze doors of St Peter’s Basilica yesterday to launch his Holy Year of Mercy, declaring that mercy trumps moralising in the Catholic Church.
Francis stood in prayer on the threshold of the basilica’s Holy Door then walked through it – the first of an estimated ten million faithful who will pass through over the course of the next year in a rite of pilgrimage dating back centuries.
A thin and frail Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI walked through after Francis, gingerly negotiating the two steps with the help of a cane and an assistant. It was a rare outing for the 88-year-old, whose historic resignation led to Francis’s election and a papacy dedicated to showing the merciful side of the church.
Some 5,000 extra police, carabinieri and soldiers have been deployed around Rome, and a no-fly zone imposed on its skies, to protect the pilgrims flocking to Vatican City to participate in the year-long celebration.
Pope Francis launched the 12-month jubilee to emphasise what has become the theme of his papacy: showing the merciful and welcoming side of the Catholic Church.
Speaking to a crowd of around 5,000 gathered for a Mass opening the jubilee year, he said: “How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy. We have to put mercy before judgment.”
The Vatican’s Holy Door, located to the right of the basilica’s main entrance, is decorated with 16 bronze panels depicting the redemption of man’s sin through mercy. Passing through it is meant to symbolise the pilgrimage of life’s journey and the sacrifices endured.