Pope Francis will today preside at a penitential liturgy in St. Peter’s basilica at 5pm (noon Eastern), during which he will open the Lenten initiative “24 Hours for the Lord”.

As last year, he is expected to go to confession in public in a gesture aimed at encouraging the faithful to renew their relationship with the Lord through receiving the Sacrament of Penance.

Churches worldwide are encouraged to remain open for 24 hours today and tomorrow. The Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, which is organizing the initiative, says it is a “concrete sign of mercy” that aims to underline the need for prayer, contemplation of the Eucharist, as well as a chance to go to confession.

It is about giving “a sign of the mercy of God the Father that is welcoming of everybody — and that we can also trust in him and find courage to go on in our faith,” the council’s president, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, told the Register last month.

In an address to the Apostolic Penitentiary yesterday, Pope Francis stressed the central importance of the Sacrament of Penance as a privileged means of communicating God’s mercy.

And in guidance to confessors, he warned against moral laxity on one hand, and cold legal rigorism on the other. Departing from his prepared text, he said neither of these two kinds of confessor “takes the penitent as his brother”, nor “takes the penitent by hand [to] accompany him on his journey of conversion.”

Pope Francis added: “Make no mistake: to be merciful means to take one’s brother or sister by the hand and help him or her to walk,” the way of conversion.

From 8pm, churches in the center of Rome will be open for Eucharistic adoration and confession. Priests and young catechists from various movements will be on hand outside some churches, inviting passers-by to enter.

Churches open throughout the night include Sant’Agnese in Agone (in Piazza Navona), Santa Maria in Trastevere, and Chiesa delle Sacre Stimmate di San Francesco (in Largo di Torre Argentina). On Saturday, from 10am to 4pm, Confession and Eucharistic Adoration will be available in the church of Sant’Agnes in Agone.

The initiative in Rome will end at 5pm on Saturday with Vespers at the church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, presided by Archbishop Fisichella.