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Pope Francis Kicks Off Yearlong Jubilee Of Mercy

Pope Francis pushes open the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica, formally launching the Holy Year of Mercy, at the Vatican on Dec. 8.

Pope Francis kicked off the Catholic Church's special Jubilee Year, the focus of which will be mercy, on Tuesday by opening the bronze Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and walking through it.

"This extraordinary holy year is itself a gift of grace," Francis said during the homily at the Mass, according to the National Catholic Reporter. "To enter through the holy door means to rediscover the deepness of the mercy of the Father who welcomes all and goes out to meet everyone personally."

"We have to put mercy before judgment, and in every case God's judgment will always be in the light of his mercy," the pope said.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome that the basilica's Holy Door is usually covered with bricks. And she says the jubilee year is an old tradition for Catholics:

"Over the centuries, Catholics were called to encourage the faithful to make a pilgrimage to the eternal city to obtain an indulgence, a remission of punishment for sins," Sylvia says. "This is just the 30th jubilee since the first one in 1300. Unlike the times of Martin Luther, indulgences are not a means for the Vatican to make money, but are free for anyone who passes through the holy door."

During this holy year, as we previously reported, Francis has said that priests will be allowed to forgive women who have had abortions. In the past, only senior church officials could grant forgiveness for the sin.

The last jubilee year was in 2000, and was presided over by Pope John Paul II. This holy year of mercy will end Nov. 20, 2016, the day celebrated as the feast of Christ the King.

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