VATICAN CITY — In this week’s general audience, Pope Francis spoke on the role of siblings in family life, saying the fraternity we learn from them teaches us how to overcome barriers and leads to greater freedom.

“With Jesus, this bond of brotherhood expands to overcome any difference of nation, language, culture or religion,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Feb. 18, Ash Wednesday.

There is no greater compliment than to say of another, “He is like a brother to me or she is like a sister,” he said, explaining that without the value of fraternity “the freedom and equality achieved by many people become full of individualism and conformity and personal interest, too.”

Pope Francis offered his reflections as part of his ongoing catechesis on the family. After spending the past three weeks looking at the role of both mothers and fathers, he turned his gaze to the importance of brothers and sisters.

To grow up in a family alongside other children is a “profound human experience” that reaches its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who became our brother and made us all children of God the Father, he said.

Fraternity was an essential value for the people of God, Francis noted, and he pointed to how this brotherhood is even praised in Scripture, when the author of Psalm 132 says, “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together as one.”

However, the rupture in fraternity that takes place when Cain murders his brother Abel “opens a deep chasm in man,” the Pope said, and God’s question to Cain, “Where is your brother?” has not ceased to resonate throughout history.

Contrary to Cain’s response, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Francis explained that we are indeed our brother’s keeper within the human family, and God’s question proves it.

He said that it is within the family where we first learn how to open ourselves to others and become good brothers and sisters. What we learn from them then goes on to benefit society as a whole.

As the first place we learn to live a fraternal coexistence, our relationship with our siblings serves as “an ideal for any relationship within society and between peoples,” the Pope said, noting that this bond reaches its fulfillment with Jesus.

Francis explained that it is Jesus who gives us the grace to see each person as a brother or sister and to reconcile differences and divisions. Jesus, he said, also offers to us the promise of true freedom and equality, which are maintained by this brotherhood.

The virtue of brotherhood and sisterhood shines even brighter “when the family has a weaker, sick or disabled brother or sister, and the others care for him or her with such affection,” the Pope observed.

He said that “having a brother, a sister who loves you is a powerful, priceless, irreplaceable experience,” and he explained that the Christian community is also called to care for the poor and needy in society with the same tenderness and affection.

Francis closed his address by praying that our “often impersonal societies” learn how to foster this spirit of fraternity and asked that families around the world would come to appreciate “the great blessing of God found in our young,” who both love and are loved as brothers and sisters.

Before concluding, the Pope asked that all of the faithful present pause for a moment of silence to remember their own brothers and sisters.

“With this prayer, we have brought all of our brothers and sisters here in our hearts to this square for a blessing,” he said, and he went on to greet pilgrims present from various countries around the world.

Pope Francis also asked for special prayers for the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were beheaded by ISIS militants over the weekend “for the mere fact of being Christians.”