ROME — Pope Francis encouraged Italy’s mayors to remain close to their people and to avoid the temptation of fleeing when duty calls.

Meeting with 200 mayors at the Vatican Feb. 5, the pope said that isolating oneself from the difficulties people face is “a way of escaping,” and he encouraged the group to devote their lives to others “rather than stay in the mountains and look at them with indifference.”

“This teaching should be kept in mind, especially when we feel discouraged and disappointed,” he said.

The group was part of a delegation of the National Association of Italian Municipalities, led by Antonio Decaro, mayor of Bari and president of the association.

In a Facebook post published after the meeting, Decaro thanked the pope for his words of encouragement, which served “as a moral and institutional guide in the work that awaits us in the coming months.”

“Pope Francis urged us to listen to those in difficulty and to be able to imagine better cities,” he said. “We mayors respond to his appeal with the same strength and determination that has been asked of us in these years in which we have had to face the fear and difficulties of the pandemic.”

In his address, the pope sympathized with the complexities of mayoral duties that on the one hand offer an “opportunity to serve citizens” while on “the other hand, I imagine you sometimes feel the loneliness of responsibility.”

Nevertheless, he said, while the pandemic has revealed “many frailties,” it also brought out “the generosity of volunteers, neighbors, health personnel and administrators” who went out of their way to help those in need, especially the poor and the elderly.

“This network of solidarity relationships is a treasure that must be preserved and strengthened,” the pope said.

“Don’t be afraid to ‘waste time’ listening to people and their problems,” the pope told the mayors. “A good listening helps us to discern, to understand the priorities on which to intervene.” Mayors, he continued, must also focus on those living on the margins of society, which can give much need perspective in serving all.

“To start from the peripheries does not mean excluding someone; it is a methodical choice, not an ideological choice, to start with the poor to serve the common good,” the pope said.

“There is no city without poor people. I would add that the poor are the wealth of a city. This would seem cynical to some (but) no, it isn’t,” he said. “The poor remind us of our frailties and that we need each other.”

Lastly, Pope Francis highlighted the need “for serenity and peace” by creating “a common fabric of values that leads to disarming tensions between cultural and social differences.”

“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to make it evolve toward a new form of encounter and coexistence with the other,” the pope said.

“Social peace is the fruit of the ability to share vocations, skills and resources. It is essential to foster the resourcefulness and creativity of people, so that they can weave meaningful relationships within neighborhoods,” he said.