VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II today opened the special Holy Year of Redemption by praying for change in a world that 'seems to be traveling in a direction perilous for all.'
The prayer was contained in the sermon read by the pope as he opened the bronze door of St. Peter's basilica marking the start of the Holy Year,celebrated by the Roman Catholic church across the world until Easter 1984.
The current Holy Year commemorates the 1950th anniversary of Christ's crucifixion.
'Grant, oh Lord, that this Holy Year of Redemption may also become an appeal to the modern world, which sees justice and peace on the horizon of its desires and yet yields ever more room to sin and lives, day after day, in the midst of mounting tensions and threats and seems to be traveling in a direction perilous for all,' the pope said.
'Help us to change the direction of mounting threats and disasters in the modern world,' he said. 'Raise man up once more. Protect the nations and peoples. Do not permit the work of destruction that threatens humanity today.'
The pope's homily, dedicated to the religious significance of the extraordinary Holy Year he proclaimed in November, came as he symbolically opened the bronze door by tapping on it three times with a silver hammer.
The bronze door to the basilica is kept bricked up except during Holy Years and had been shut since the last Holy Year in 1975.
The facade of the massive door was sealed with concrete at the end of the regular 1975 Holy Year presided over by Pope Paul VI.
At the start of past Holy Years, the entire door and the concrete that sealed it, loosened in advance by Vatican workmen, would fall inwards away from the pope after he tapped it for the third time.
This year, however, Vatican workmen have removed the concrete. The pope unlocked the door with a key.
The departure from the centuries-old tradition was apparently taken because when the concrete and door fell in 1975, dust and small particles of concrete fell on Paul VI and people near him.
The first Holy Year was proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300 and most have been held every 25 years since.
The next Holy Year, after that of 1975, was to be held in the year 2000. But John Paul, to the surprise of even some of his closest aides, announced the special Holy Year last November.
His visit to his native Poland in June has been included as a special event in the Holy Year's program. He was to have traveled to Poland last year but Warsaw authorities postponed the trip due to the imposition of martial law.
During the Holy Year some 9 million pilgrims are expected in Rome to receive special indulgences -- the forgiveness of sins -- by visiting one of five Roman basilicas, one of the Roman catacombs or attending a papal audience.
In another departure from tradition, John Paul has 'internationalized' the 1983 Holy Year.
He has proclaimed that Catholics the world over can receive the special indulgences by visiting a selected church in their diocese and taking part in a religious service.
The pope himself is expected to visit Italian jails and hospitals during the year to preside at special services.