Pope Francis I
Pope Francis is appealing to world leaders to abolish the death penaltyGetty

Pope Francis has called again for a worldwide abolition of the death penalty, and at the very least a moratorium on all executions to mark this "Holy Year of Mercy."

Speaking at St. Peter's Square on 21 February, he said: "I make an appeal to the conscience of all rulers, so that we can achieve an international consensus for the abolition of the death penalty. I propose to those among them who are Catholic to make a courageous and exemplary gesture, that no sentence is executed in this Holy Year of Mercy."

He warned that the commandment "'Thou shalt not kill' has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty," and said that "even criminals hold the inviolable right to life" given by God, reported National Public Radio.

Francis told the tourists and pilgrims gathered at St. Peter's Square that there is "an ever more widespread opposition in public opinion to the death penalty, even only as an instrument of legitimate social defense. Modern societies have the possibility to efficiently repress crime without taking away definitely the possibility to redeem oneself from those who committed the crime."

Francis also called on people of good will to improve prison conditions. The pontiff has often visited prisons, the latest during his recent trip to the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Francis voiced his support for an international conference, A World Without the Death Penalty, taking place on 22 February in Rome. He said he hoped the conference would bring renewed energy to the mission to end capital punishment.

The church's formal year-long push for mercy and forgiveness is set to continue through November 20, when the feast of Christ the King will be celebrated.