ROME – On the feast of the Holy Family, and looking ahead to a 2015 in which concern for the family will once again be at the top of his personal to-do list, Pope Francis on Sunday urged politicians to make support for large families a priority.

“In a world often marked by egoism, a large family is a school of solidarity and of mission that’s of benefit to the entire society,” Francis said.

The comments came in an audience the pontiff held Sunday morning with an Italian association of large families, which filled the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall with children, parents, and grandparents. Children were seated on the stairs leading up to the stage where Francis spoke, and he spent considerable time interacting with them.

The “National Association of Large Families” brings together families that have at least four children, through birth, adoption, or foster care. Its mission is to promote policies, such as adjustments to the tax system and school fees, that encourage parents to have more children.

Noting that article 31 of the Italian constitution actually calls for special attention to large families, Pope Francis said this provision “doesn’t get an adequate response in the facts. They remain just words.”

“I hope, therefore, thinking also of the low fertility rate that Italy has had for a long time … 1 percent, almost nothing … there will be greater attention from politics and public administrators at every level to give support to these families,” Francis said.

According to the Italian government’s statistical agency Istat, the country’s fertility rate is currently 1.41 children born for every woman, ranking it 203 out of 224 nations in the world. Demographers typically peg the replacement rate, meaning the number of children needed to keep a population stable, at 2.1.

“Every family is a cell of society,” the pope said, “but large families are richer and more vital cells.”

During his noontime Angelus address, Pope Francis paid special tribute to the role of grandparents in extended families.

“How important their presence is, how precious their role is in the family and the society,” the pope said, calling that role “decisive for the path of the civil and ecclesial communities.”

Francis then asked for a round of applause from the crowd in St. Peter’s Square for all the grandparents of the world.

Pope Francis has made concern for the family a keen priority since the beginning of his papacy, devoting one Synod of Bishops to the subject in October 2014 and calling another on the same theme for next October.

During his Angelus address, the pontiff said that when families “breathe the air of faith together, they can face difficult challenges together.”

The pope said the example of the Holy Family, meaning Mary, St. Joseph, and the infant Jesus, “inspires us to offer human warmth to all families, [and also] our concrete solidarity for families that are facing illness, a lack of work, discrimination, [or] the necessity to immigrate.”

The pontiff then asked for a moment of silent prayer for all families in difficulty, including those “marked by disunity.”