On the 8th of December, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (and also the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council), Pope Francis began the Year of Mercy as he opened the Holy Door of St Peter's Basilica. The action marks the beginning of a year where pilgrims are granted a special indulgence by entering the Holy Door, opened in basilicas, cathedrals, shrines and some churches around the world. 

Below is an excerpt from the Pope's homily:

This Extraordinary Year is itself a gift of grace. To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. It is he who seeks us! It is he who comes to encounter us! This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy. 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 (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)! But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel thatwe ourselves are part of this mystery of love, of tenderness. Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things... Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, and the mercy and forgiveness of God...The Jubilee challenges us to this openness, and demands that we not neglect the spirit which emerged from Vatican II, the spirit of the Samaritan, as Blessed Paul VI expressed it at the conclusion of the Council. May our passing through the Holy Door today commit us to making our own the mercy of the Good Samaritan.

Pilgrims attend a papal mass in St Peter's square for the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, on December 8, 2015 in Vatican (AFP Photo/Andreas Solaro)

Pilgrims attend a papal mass in St Peter's square for the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, on December 8, 2015 in Vatican (AFP Photo/Andreas Solaro)