Catholic politicians should not authorize any death penalty executions this year, Pope Francis said Sunday, as he renewed the Vatican's support for a worldwide end to capital punishment.
"Even criminals retain the inviolable right to life, a gift from God. I appeal to the consciences of rulers so that we may arrive at a global consensus for the abolishment of the death penalty," Francis said during his Sunday Angelus message.
"And I propose to those [rulers] who are Catholic to commit a courageous and exemplary act: do not execute anyone in this Holy Year of Mercy," the pontiff added.
Francis was referring to the Jubilee, an ongoing Catholic festival offering the faithful a general pardon for their sins. The pope has scheduled it to run from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016, and has dedicated it to the Christian ideal of mercy.
Crowds who flocked to St Peter's Square to hear the pope's remarks were treated to a gift for Lent, the period of penance Catholics observe in the six weeks leading up to Easter, which this year falls on March 27.
"I decided to give to you who are here in the square a spiritual medicine," Francis said, explaining that volunteers for the Vatican - including the homeless, the poor and refugees - would hand them boxes containing a rosary and an image of Jesus Christ.
The so-called "Misericordina" package - a play on words combining the Italian for "mercy" and "aspirin" - is a Pope Francis trademark. "We have done this before, but this is better quality, this is Misericordina Plus," the pontiff quipped.