Pope Francis met this afternoon with the directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies and encouraged them to help "the young churches" that operate in difficult and sometimes hostile circumstances.

After reminding them not to forget the universal and missionary nature of their work, Pope Francis underscored the importance of helping those in "the young churches, which often operate in a climate of difficulty, discrimination, and persecution."

The 120 national directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies and Cardinal Fernando Filoni, head of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, met with the Pope at 12:30 p.m. on May 17 in the Vatican's Clementine Hall.

During the encounter, Pope Francis became the first pontiff to unlock an app for smartphones. He launched the MISSIO app on an iPad by pressing a button that said "Evangelizantur," which means, "that they be evangelized" in Latin.

The app that he unlocked offers news from the Vatican, stories and photos from the missions, and a way to donate to the society. It is available for Android and Apple devices.

Father Andrew Small, who is the U.S. national director, said in a May 17 interview with CNA that during the directors' meeting with the Pope he "reclaimed us as the Bishop of Rome, as the Roman pontiff" by emphasizing that they are pontifical institutes.

He also told the leaders that they are, "in a sense, my specialists in the missionary work of the Church," Fr. Small recalled, before going on to explain how the societies work to help the poor and needy and proclaim the Gospel.

The Pope also underlined the relevance of the societies, saying that they are "still necessary today because there are so many peoples who have still not known and met Christ and it is urgent to find new forms and new ways that God's grace might touch the heart of each man and each woman and bring them to him."

Pope Francis acknowledged that their mission is a difficult one, but "with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it becomes an exciting mission. … This is what we should always draw courage from: knowing that the strength of evangelization comes from God, belongs to him."

The Pope also touched on one of his major themes, telling the societies to bring God's mercy and to the poor and abandoned while maintaining an outward focus on evangelization, instead of becoming "wrapped up in themselves."