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Rome Newsroom, May 21, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday encouraged members of a homeless advocacy organization to be “witnesses of God’s mercy and goodness.”

Speaking to the Association Lazare May 21, Pope Francis praised the group on 10 years of work and expansion into other countries.

The French organization, known in English as the Lazarus Association, seeks to combat homelessness by providing the unhoused not only with shelter, but also friendship, support, and community.

“Having received so much good and so much attention from others, you, in turn, become men and women capable of relieving, consoling, soothing wounds, and making God present in the hearts of your lives,” said Pope Francis in an address distributed in Italian, French, and Spanish.

“I encourage you to give the best of yourself, to live every moment of existence as one grace, to come out of anonymity and make your life an offer for the beautiful, for the good.”

Since it was founded in France in 2011, the Lazarus Association has expanded into Spain and Belgium. Pope Francis credited the group’s “commitment and dedication to try to be Christian, not just in words, but in deeds” for its continued success and growth.

“It is always a joy to see that even today many people, full of faith, goodwill, and courage, commit themselves to live the experience of service and fraternity,” he said.

The Lazarus Association consists of single-sex homes of young adults and formerly unhoused people. The homes live as a community and have weekly dinners that all residents must attend.

“As an alternative to large shelters, we offer regular-sized apartments where six to 10 people live together,” its website says. “Each person has his or her own private bedroom, and the kitchen, the living room, and the bathroom are shared.”

The unique housing arrangements overseen by the Lazarus Association are part of “the Church’s mission to go to the peripheries of our society,” said Pope Francis.

“You have chosen to place yourselves at the service of human dignity, to make yourselves close to people excluded, homeless, rejected, and often betrayed in their rights,” said the pope.

“By serving [the homeless], you serve the Lord himself. With your apostolate, you help us to understand that each person is a sacred history, a priceless gift.”

The pope praised the group’s members who, he said, in “these times of uncertainty, of fragility,” volunteer to live in community with the homeless and provide support to a vulnerable population.

This living arrangement provides “a way to enrich your life by becoming a source of hope for those who don’t have it,” he said.

“You wanted to be, for the people you serve, the hand, the eyes, the ears, the smile of God,” observed Pope Francis. “Show them the closeness of the Lord who takes care of his people, especially of those who are wounded and bent by the burdens of life.”

The pope gave the Lazarus Association a further message of encouragement.

“Do not be afraid to pass the torch of hope and love,” he said. “Be witness to the tenderness of God in the midst of the culture of selfishness, individualism, indifference, waste, contempt for the poor and the weak.”

The pope was scheduled to meet with the Lazarus Association last year, but the meeting was canceled due to the pandemic.