Pope Francis began the Catholic Church's "Jubilee Year of Mercy" at St. Peter's Square with a public mass and ceremony attended by 50,000 people. Pope Francis opened a "Holy Door" at St. Peter's Basilica to officially launch the year-long celebration with its themes of mercy and solidarity for the poor.
"Pope Francis and other religious leaders will use the idea of the Jubilee Year to focus on the trade, tax and debt policies that cause inequality around the globe," said Eric LeCompte, executive director of the religious development group Jubilee USA, which was founded as part of the Catholic Church's last celebration of the Jubilee Year in 2000. "This is an exciting moment to win policies to end poverty."
The Jubilee Year is described in Jewish and Christian scriptures as a way to address inequality. In 1997, Pope John Paul II called for the Catholic Church's 2000th Anniversary or Jubilee Year to be specifically linked to international efforts to reduce debt for low-income countries. That effort, joined by religious leaders from most faiths, led to more than $110 billion in debt relief for 38 countries from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and G8 countries.
In his remarks at the United Nations in September, Pope Francis invited world leaders to reduce global poverty by addressing specific economic policies. He referenced "oppressive lending systems" and called on the United Nations to facilitate solving the global debt crisis. In July, Pope Francis endorsed a global bankruptcy process for countries.
"If we want to understand what this Jubilee year will involve, watch the Pope's speech to the United Nations in September," noted LeCompte, who serves on UN expert groups on finance and consults Catholic leaders around policy on economic issues. "Pope Francis is not inviting us to pursue charity, he's inviting us to change the actual global policies that cause poverty."