SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy — On Saturday Pope Francis asked Catholics if they try to pray as Jesus did — out of love for God — or if they only pray when they need something from God or want a “shot” of stress relief.

“Prayer can be born as a request, even as a prompt intervention, but matures in praise and adoration. Then it becomes truly personal, as it was for Jesus,” the Pope said March 17.

“We ask ourselves: do our prayers resemble that of Jesus or are they reduced to occasional emergency calls? ‘I need something...’ And when you do not need [something], what do you do? Or do we mean them as tranquilizers to be taken in regular doses, to get some relief from stress?”

“No, prayer is a gesture of love, it is being with God and bringing him the life of the world: It is an indispensable work of spiritual mercy,” he continued.

Pope Francis spoke about the importance of prayer during Mass with around 30,000 people at the shrine of St. Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, the town where St. Padre Pio spent most of his life as a Capuchin priest.

It was the second stop in his day trip to Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo, the towns in Italy where Padre Pio lived.

In his homily he emphasized that if Christians do not pray for their brothers and sisters, for difficult situations, no one will. “Who will intercede, who will bother to knock on the heart of God to open the door of mercy to a humanity in need?” he asked. “We can ask ourselves: Do we Christians pray enough?”

Francis noted that it is easy to make excuses about prayer, putting it aside for things we think are more urgent. But this, he said, is putting aside “the best part,” as Jesus told Martha in the Gospel of Luke, when she was upset that her sister Mary was speaking with Jesus instead of helping her.

Padre Pio knew the importance of prayer, he said, and even 50 years after his death and entrance into heaven, left us the legacy of the prayer groups he started, and which continue today.

He quoted the saint, who said in a message he gave at the International Conference of Prayer Groups in 1966: “Pray a lot, my children, pray always, never get tired.” Unless we open ourselves to praise and adoration, “we do not know the Father,” he said, and encouraged those present to “resume prayers of adoration and praise.”

Before Mass Pope Francis stopped to visit children with cancer who are being treated in the pediatric oncology department of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House of relief of the suffering) hospital, founded by Padre Pio, in San Giovanni Rotondo.

He said in his homily that the “small are those who have a humble and open heart, poor and needy, who feel the need to pray, to entrust themselves and to be accompanied,” and that the hearts of little ones like the children he visited are “like an antenna, which captures the signal of God immediately.”

He also said that God is especially present at the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, which is an internationally recognized hospital and research center, because of the many sick and suffering present inside.

Padre Pio “called it ‘a temple of prayer and science,’ where all are called to be ‘reserves of love’ for others,” Francis said.

“Now we can ask ourselves: Do we know how to look for God where he is? Here there is a special sanctuary where he is present because there are many little ones preferred by him.”