Jubilee launch attended by far fewer pilgrims than expected.
The façade and dome of St Peter's were illuminated with enormous images of humankind's relationship with nature on the evening of 8 December, marking the end of a day of events to launch the Vatican's Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The spectacular public art installation featured images of endangered animals and landscapes by leading environmental photographers, inspired by the Laudato Si' papal encyclical in which Pope Francis calls for the protection of the environment and creation.
Entitled Fiat Lux: Illuminating our Common Home, the multi-million dollar initiative was themed around "climate change, human dignity and the earth's living creatures” according to its organisers, a coalition of groups working under the auspices of Connect4Climate, the World Bank’s global partnership programme dedicated to driving an international response to climate change.
The Vatican said the "unique" show was designed to link Pope Francis’ encyclical with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop21) currently underway in Paris, however some conservative Catholic groups objected to the use of St Peter's as a backdrop for such a "radical environmental message."
The Holy Jubilee, which concludes on 20 November next year, was launched earlier on 8 December when Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at St Peter’s Basilica at 09.30. The ceremony, which was held amid tight security, was attended by the Italian president Sergio Mattarella, Italian premier Matteo Renzi, and an extremely frail pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, as well as around 50,000 pilgrims.
This number is far less than expected and pales into comparison with other major Vatican events, such as last year's double canonisation of Popes John XXVIII and John Paul II which attracted at least 800,000 pilgrims. Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero reported on 6 December that out of the 160,000 hotel rooms in the capital, 48,000 are empty. The reason behind the low numbers is allegedly related to fears of terrorism in the wake of the recent Paris attacks.
For full details of the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy see website.