ROME – Pope Francis on Monday closed 2018 taking up a cause about which he’s often been outspoken, asking Catholics to pray for the homeless and victims of modern slavery in the spirit of Jesus, who saved humanity from sin.

In his Dec. 31 homily for vespers on New Year’s Eve, the pope said Jesus’ birth was meant to redeem mankind, which, he said, means “to go out from a condition of slavery and to restore liberty, dignity and freedom to his own children.”

He urged worshipers  to stop and reflect “with pain and repentance” on the thousands of men and women who during the previous year have lived in situations “unworthy of human beings,” including homelessness and modern slavery.

Even in Rome there are some 10 thousand homeless, whose plight is worsened during the cold winter months, he said, adding that they are all children of God who, due to different forms of slavery and complex circumstances “live at the limits of human dignity.”

“Jesus was also born in a similar condition, but not by chance or accident,” he said, adding that Jesus “wanted to be born like this to manifest the love of God for the small and poor, and so throw into the world the seed of the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of justice, of love and peace, where no one is a slave, but all are brothers, sons of the only Father.”

“God the Father sent his only son into the world to eradicate from the heart of man the ancient slavery of sin and so restore him to his dignity,” Francis said, adding that, as stated in the Gospels, it is from man’s heart that comes “every evil intention, the iniquities that corrupt life and relationships.”

In Rome, the Church is not indifferent to those trapped in modern slavery, he said, stressing that the Church is not a mere observer and neither does it simply want to give basic help. Rather, the Church “wants to be inside of this reality, close to these people and to their situations.”

Noting that the Catholic Church recently celebrated the birth of Jesus at Christmas, Francis said that while at the time Jesus was born the event was not noteworthy to the majority of the world, a little over 30 years later “that Jesus will unleash an unprecedented force, which lasted and will last for the whole of history.”

This strength, he said, “is called love. It is love that gives fullness to everything, even time; and Jesus is the concentration of the entirety of the love of God in a human being.”

Francis closed his homily noting that man’s salvation came from the smallness of a newborn child. Man’s strength came from Jesus’ fragility, man’s freedom from his becoming a servant, he said, saying this is the heart of God’s love for humanity.

“What name can we give to this, if not love?” he said, adding that it is the love of the Trinity, “to whom tonight this holy mother Church raises throughout the entire world the hymn of praise and thanksgiving.”