VATICAN CITY — Addressing Mary as “mother of refugees,” Pope Francis offered prayers for the millions of people in the world forced to flee their homelands, and he asked Catholics to reach out to them with assistance and a real welcome.Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican June 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Remember, Jesus was a refugee; he and Mary and Joseph had to go to Egypt to save his life,” the pope said June 18 at the end of his weekly general audience. “Pray to Mary who knows the pain of being a refugee.”

Anticipating the U.N.’s World Refugee Day June 20, Pope Francis led an estimated 30,000 people in praying the Hail Mary for all those “forced to leave their homelands to flee conflicts and persecution.”

“Millions of families – millions – of every religious faith” have sought refuge in many countries around the world, the pope said. Even when they reach a safe place, they live with the members of “dramas and wounds that cannot be healed easily.”

“Let us be close to them, sharing their fears and their uncertainty about the future and concretely alleviating their suffering,” he said.

Pope Francis also prayed that God would bless the people and organizations that generously work to ensure refugees find a welcome, recognition of their dignity and hope for the future.