Pope Francis met asylum seekers, homeless people and Catholic faithful at the Holy Heart Basilica in Rome on Sunday afternoon. 

The pontiff visited the basilica on the occasion of the Church's 100th annual World Day for Migrants and Refugees. 

"Do not lose hope for a better world," he encouraged migrants. 

'Do not lose hope for a better world.'- Pope Francis

The pope also thanked those who helped and protected migrants. Volunteers and priests at the parish provide support for homeless people and migrants in the capital. 

It is also a hospitality centre for more than 400 young refugees and asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East, including Somalia, Eritrea, Syria, Sudan and Turkey.  

Message of unity

After holding a mass, the Pope had a message of unity and hope for the faithful gathered to see him.

Italy Pope

In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L' Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets with faithful during his visit at the Holy Heart Basilica in Rome, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. (L'Osservatore Romano/Associated Press)

 

"We must treasure the hope, because the hope will never let us down. It is totally different to go on the path of life alone, with the hands like this (folded) or to go ahead with your hand in the hand of a friend," the pope said. 

During his four-hour visit, Francis said he felt there was joy in the parish, even though people in the centre had many reasons to be unhappy with their lives.

'All of us have pain'

He admitted that even he faces difficulties and pain sometimes, but "sharing the road of life," he said "will always help us".

"All of us have pain and the pope is an ordinary man as many others and has his pain, but also positive things," he said. 

The basilica is located near Rome's central Termini railway station, in one of the most multi-ethnic neighbourhoods of the city.

The parish provides various services: from Italian language courses to driving lessons, school for adults, computer and job training and placements. 

The pontiff has often demanded a better treatment of migrants during his public speeches. 

Demanding better treatment

On Monday he urged Italians in particular to "renew their praiseworthy commitment of solidarity" towards migrants, an allusion to the current debate in Italy to revise its restrictive immigration policies.  

Each year, thousands attempt risky voyages across the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats heading towards Italian shores, and hundreds die en route.  
 
Last year, Francis visited the island of Lampedusa, the destination of choice for smuggling operations where more than 360 people died in a single shipwreck on October 3.  

with files from Reuters