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Pope Kicks Off Holy Year Of Mercy At Vatican With Grand Spectacle

An estimated 10 million Catholics are expected to pass through the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica as part of a rite of pilgrimage that dates back centuries.

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Pope Francis's Holy Year of Mercy kicked off Tuesday in a grand spectacle at the Vatican, setting the stage for a rite of passage that millions of Catholics are expected to make over the next year.

Francis formally launched the Holy Year of Mercy — a 12-month campaign to emphasize Catholic tenets of mercy and atonement — by pushing open the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica and walking across the threshold.

An estimated 10 million faithful are expected to follow in Francis's steps over the next year, symbolizing the path of sacrifices endured over one's life, the Associated Press reported.


Speaking to thousands gathered in St. Peter's square under cloudy skies, Francis emphasized the importance of forgiveness over judgement.

"We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event, God's judgment will always be in the light of his mercy," he said.

Accompanying the pomp and circumstance was a gift to Francis in honor of his Holy Year of Mercy: A photo light show organized by humanitarian organizations.

The massive art installation on nature also coincided with the final stretch of climate talks in Paris, an issue Francis has taken a keen interest in.

Holy Years go back centuries and are typically celebrated every 25 to 50 years. Over time, Catholics have been encouraged to make pilgrimages to Rome and obtain an "indulgence" — an old tradition related to the forgiveness that, according to the AP, is similar to a "get out of Purgatory free" card. Modern indulgences are free and available to those who pass through the Holy Door.

The last Holy Year was in 2000 under St. John Paul II, during which an estimated 25 million pilgrims flocked to Rome.

Jason Wells is deputy news director for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

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