Pope Francis is urging Catholic leaders not to allow executions this year, while he is stressing mercy.

Francis told tourists and pilgrims in St. Peter's Square Sunday that he is proposing Catholic leaders should "make a courageous and exemplary gesture" and ensure that no convicted inmate is executed during the church's Holy Year of Mercy, which runs through Nov. 20.

He added he was also appealing to the conscience of all leaders so they can reach "international consensus" to abolish the death penalty.

Francis has reinforced earlier church teaching, especially by St. John Paul II, that there's no justification in modern society for capital punishment.

The pope said "even criminals hold the inviolable right to life" given by God. He also called for improved prison conditions.