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Pope Francis calls for no state executions during Holy Year of Mercy

Pope Francis has urged Catholic leaders and politicians around the world to refuse to authorize death penalty executions this year. The pope's strong comments have come shortly after a prison visit in Mexico.

Using some of his strongest language yet on the subject of capital punishment, Pope Francis told the Sunday-morning crowds assembled in St Peter's Square: "the commandment 'do not kill' holds absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty."

"I appeal to the conscience of those who govern so that international consensus is reached for the abolishment of the death penalty," the pope said to tourists and pilgrims in Rome.

He continued with a plea for specifically Catholic politicians: "I propose to all those among you who are Catholic to make a courageous and exemplary gesture: may no execution sentence be carried out in this Holy Year of Mercy."

The Catholic Church's Holy Year, which runs until November 20, is being used to promote efforts for reconciliation around the world. The church, which has 1.2 billion members, only changed its stance on the death penalty under late Pope John Paul, who died in 2005.

Since then, the Vatican has been supporting an international end to capital punishment.

"Even criminals retain the inviolable right to life, a gift from God," insisted Francis.

Watch video 01:20

Pope Francis visits Mexican prison

The prisoner's pope

Since the beginning of his papacy nearly three years ago, Pope Francis has advocated for inmates rights, expressing concerns that prisoners should be treated with dignity.

"All Christians and men of good will are called on to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also to improve prison conditions so that they respect the human dignity of people who have been deprived of their freedom," he said during Sunday's address.

Throughout the pope's trips in Italy and abroad, he has made a point of visiting prisons. Last week,

Francis met with inmates at a prison in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico,

calling for better prison conditions.

The pope has also previously condemned life imprisonment as "a hidden death penalty" and said more should be done to rehabilitate criminals.

Pope Francis' comments

come ahead of an international conference on the death penalty which will start on Monday in Rome. The event is organized by the Sant'Egidio Community, a worldwide Catholic peace and justice group.

rs/jm (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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