ROME — By being open to God and to serving others, “your lives will take flight,” Pope Francis told members of the Italian air force.

“The sky reminds us that we are also made to fly, not so much in the material sense, but especially in the spiritual one. We are children of a Father who tells us: ‘Be holy for I am holy,’ which is like saying: fly high!” the pope told about 500 military aviators after they had attended Mass Dec. 10, the feast of Our Lady of Loreto.

The Mass and the papal audience in St. Peter’s Basilica marked the end of a special — and specially prolonged — Loreto jubilee year.

The celebrations began Dec. 8, 2019, to mark the 100th anniversary of the declaration of Our Lady of Loreto as the patron saint of aviation, aviators and air travelers. According to pious tradition, Mary’s house in Nazareth was flown by angels to Italy in 1294 after a brief stop in Yugoslavia.

Because restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 forced the cancellation of many of the jubilee events, Pope Francis extended the celebrations by a year.

“Every jubilee, according to ancient biblical tradition, reminds us that we are pilgrims in this world — that we are not ‘masters’ of the earth — and even less of heaven — but we are charged with cultivating and preserving this ‘garden’ where God has placed us,” the pope told members of the air force, the Italian undersecretary of defense and the defense chief of staff.

The two years dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto, he said, also served as a reminder that “God created the heavens for us, too. Contemplating the sky opens us to boundless spaces; it makes us feel small and at the same time ‘thought of,’ ‘remembered’ by the one who created the universe, a reality that never ceases to amaze us as we discover it with ever more powerful instruments of observation.”

Pope Francis asked the aviators to be open to God and to everyone in need at home and on duty.

“For you, ‘flying high’ means being peacemakers, serving peace both in the air and on the ground, both at home and away, in areas of conflict,” he said.

And, no matter where they are stationed, he said, “the Holy House of Loreto reminds us that wherever we are, we have a home that guards our Christian roots, and we have a mother who watches over us. The home is the church, and the mother is Mary. From her we learn above all humility, which is the way that leads to heaven.”