VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis has offered his praise to the Jesuits in Italy for their longstanding work with refugees, while asking the foreigners for their pardon on behalf of all who have been closed-minded and indifferent to their plight.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” the pope said in a video message directed to refugees and workers who help them, calling to mind Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel.

“Too often we have not welcomed you! Forgive the closure and indifference of our societies, which fear the change of life and mentality that your presence requires,” he said.

Francis noted that after coming to a new country, refugees are frequently treated as burdens and problems which only bring more cost. However, “You are instead a gift.”

“You are the testimony of how our heavenly and merciful God transforms the evil and injustice of those who suffer into a good for all,” the pope said, explaining that each refugee can be a bridge “that unites peoples who are far away, that makes possible the meeting of cultures and different religions,” and which lead to a path of “rediscovering our common humanity.”

Pope Francis offered his words in a video message for the 35th anniversary of Centro Astalli, the Italian headquarters of the Jesuit Refugee Service. Published April 19, the message coincides with the presentation of the center’s annual report in Rome.

In his brief comments, Francis spoke directly to both the workers and volunteers of the center, as well as the refugees they assist.

He pointed to the first part of the passage in Matthew 25: “I was a stranger.” Each refugee, he said, has “the face of God and the flesh of Christ.”

Speaking directly to the refugees who receive help from the center, Francis told them that their experiences of both pain and hope serve as a reminder that every person on the earth is a stranger and a pilgrim who has been welcomed by someone “with generosity and without any merit.”

“Whoever, like you, has fled from their own land due to oppression, war, nature disfigured by pollution and deforestation, or from the unjust distribution of the planet’s resources, is a brother with whom to share one’s bread, home and life,” the pope said.

He said the Astalli Center is prime example of what the daily welcoming of peoples ought to look like, and thanked the workers and volunteers, both lay and consecrated, for their work.

Through their work, they show “in the facts that if we walk the path together there is less fear,” he said, and urged them to be concrete witnesses “of the beauty of encounter. Help our society to listen to the voice of the refugees.”

“Continue to walk with courage at their side, accompany them and be their guide,” Pope Francis said in conclusion, adding that “refugees know the roads that lead to peace, because they know the acrid smell of war.”