VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis praised pro-life activists as “Good Samaritans” to the most vulnerable, citing their commitment to defending life at all stages and their role in affirming the dignity of women.

Meeting Nov. 6 with members of Italy’s pro-life movement, the Pope called on those present “to protect the most vulnerable people, who have the right to be born into life, as well as those who ask for a healthier and more dignified existence,” according to the Vatican Information Service translation.

“There is a need to work at different levels and with perseverance, in the promotion and defense of the family, society’s foremost resource, especially with reference to the gift of children and the affirmation of the dignity of the woman,” he said.

The pontiff’s remarks Friday came during a private audience with the 510 pro-life activists who were taking part in the Nov. 6-8 Congress of the Movement for Life held in Sacrofano, Italy.

During the meeting, the Pope affirmed the movement’s work in accepting the most vulnerable, regardless of their creed or nationality.

“The relevant number of women, especially immigrants, who attend your centers show that when women are offered concrete support, in spite of problems and influences, they are able to make the sense of love, life and maternity triumph within them,” he said.

“I encourage you to continue your important work in favor of life from conception until its natural end, also taking into account the conditions of suffering that many brothers and sisters have to face and at times submit to,” he said.

Italy’s pro-life movement has gained momentum in recent years. Abortion has been legal in the Mediterranean nation since 1978. More recently, Italy has been confronted with efforts to enact legislation which would allow for euthanasia, beginning with the 2009 killing of young Eluana Englaro.

Pope Francis called for the nurturing of “personal and social sensibility” to the “welcoming of new life,” as well as towards the poor and the exploited.

Citing his encyclical Laudato si, the Pope asked, “How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo?”

He stressed the importance of recognizing human life as a gift to be defended, adding that “we must note, sadly, that there are many people who experience uncomfortable conditions of life, who require our attention and our solidarity.”

Pope Francis went on to laud the pro-life workers present at the audience for following the example of the “Good Samaritan” in their efforts to defend the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable.

“Faced with the suffering and need of our defenseless brothers, some turn away or move on, whereas others stop and respond with generous dedication to their cry for help,” the Pope said.

“Before the various forms of threats to human life, you have approached the frailty of others; you have taken action so that in society there may no longer be excluded or marginalized [people] who live in precarious conditions,” he said.

The Holy Father drew from the example given by Christ’s disciples, for whom “helping wounded human life meant going towards people in need, putting themselves by their sides and taking on board their frailty and suffering, so as to relieve them.”

“How many families are vulnerable due to poverty, illness, unemployment and homelessness? How many elderly people suffer the burden of suffering and loneliness? How many young people are lost, threatened by addiction and other forms of slavery, waiting to rediscover trust in life?” he asked.

Pope Francis has spoken often in defense of life, such as in a recent address to Catholic legislators, whom he told to “be strong” against a throwaway culture marked in part by rejection of the unborn.

Earlier this year, the Holy Father released an encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, in which he condemned attacks human life, such as abortion, embryonic experimentation and population control.