Europe

Pope presses case for mercy with Holy Year priestly retreat

  • Pope Francis walks as he leaves after his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

    Pope Francis walks as he leaves after his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)  (The Associated Press)

  • Pope Francis leaves after his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

    Pope Francis leaves after his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)  (The Associated Press)

  • Pope Francis tries to hold on to his skull cap blown away by the wind as leaves after his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

    Pope Francis tries to hold on to his skull cap blown away by the wind as leaves after his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)  (The Associated Press)

Pope Francis is pressing his case for the Catholic Church to be more a place of mercy than moralizing with a three-day retreat for priests from around the world aimed at encouraging them to show "infinite mercy" with their flocks.

Francis kicked off the retreat's main day Thursday with a meditation on mercy at St. John Lateran Basilica. He had two other meditations scheduled later at other Rome basilicas, one of the key events of his Holy Year of Mercy which, at its half-way mark, has drawn 8.5 million pilgrims to Rome.

Francis' emphasis on mercy has come under increasing criticism from conservatives for opening the door to letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion. Conservatives say Francis introduced confusion in the church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.