This was part of the message the Pope gave on Monday when he met with Claretian missionaries, in Rome for their congregation's general chapter.
"These are times in which life, great gift of the Father, must be defended, cultivated and dignified, especially among the most abandoned, through a word of hope and abnegated gestures of acceptance and solidarity," the Holy Father said in his address.
"That They May Have Life" is the motto of the general chapter of the Missionaries Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as the Claretians are formally known. The chapter's 76 delegates had an audience with the Pope in the apostolic palace of Castel Gandolfo.
"In your reflection on the theme of the chapter, you feel called by the Lord Jesus to proclaim the God of life," the Holy Father said. He added that missionary service "must spring from intimate union with the Lord who sends you, and be lived in the path of self-giving all the way to the cross, which he himself walked."
"It is an intimate communion that you must learn from Mary's heart, source of the best response and the most authentic adherence to the message of the Gospel," the Pope said.
He also recommended to the Claretians the daily "listening of the Word" and "participation in the Eucharist," as did their founder, St. Anthony Mary Claret.
The Holy Father told the religious attending the chapter that they can find in the guidelines in the postsynodal exhortations addressed to the diverse continents, and in the apostolic letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," a "proper understanding of the signs of the times and of the task of evangelization ... [and] an apostolic spirituality centered fundamentally on the person of Jesus."
During the audience, John Paul II congratulated Father Josep María Abella Batlle for his recent election as superior general.
The Pope concluded by thanking God for the gifts he has bestowed on the congregation, including that of vocations -- "especially in Asia and Africa, which the institute must welcome and be seriously dedicated to their integral formation."
The Claretian ranks comprise 17 bishops, 2,033 priests, 257 religious brothers, 598 professed students and novices, and 145 novices, working in 64 countries. See www.claret.org.