Pope Francis held an audience with missionary families from around the world Feb. 1, encouraging them to spread the gospel with great charity.

"Evangelize with love, carry to all the love of God. Tell everyone you meet on the streets of your mission (and) that God loves man as he is, even with his limitations, his mistakes and his sins," the Pope urged members of the Neocatechumenal Way.

Saturday's meeting in the Paul VI audience hall included almost 8,000 members from the organization dedicated to helping people grow in their faith through parish-based communities, including families, seminarians and priests. Nearly 30 cardinals and bishops were also present.

Pope Francis thanked the participants for their "joy in faith" and "ardor of Christian testimony."

"My thoughts go in a special way to the families who will travel to different parts of the world to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel. The Church is grateful to you for your generosity! Thank you for all that you do in the Church and in the world!" he exclaimed.

The Neocatechumenal Way is sending hundreds of families on mission throughout the world, particularly to countries in Asia such as China, India, and Vietnam. People at various parts of the audience hall waved flags and erupted in cheers as the names of their mission countries were announced.

The Pontiff then offered some words of advice to those being sent to evangelize.

"Have the greatest care to build and conserve the internal communion of the particular Churches where you will go to work," he emphasized.

"The (Neocatechumenal) Way has its own charism, its own dynamic, a gift that like all the gifts of the Spirit has a profound ecclesial dimension… (but) at times it could be better not to live in all the details of what your journey would require, in order to ensure the unity amongst brethren that forms one ecclesial community, which you always must feel a part of."

Pope Francis also encouraged the evangelists to have special concern for those who are weakest.

"The Neocatechumenal Way, as a journey of discovery of one's Baptism is a difficult path, along which a brother or sister may find unexpected difficulties. In these cases, the exercise of patience and mercy on the part of the community is a sign of maturity in the faith."

Moreover, the Pope noted, a person's freedom must always be respected.

"The freedom of each individual must not be forced, and you should also respect the eventual choice of those who decide to seek outside the Way, other forms of Christian life to help him grow in response to the call of the Lord."

Above all, said Pope Francis, those who evangelize should remember well that "the Spirit of God always arrives prior to us!"

"Be messengers and witnesses to the infinite goodness and inexhaustible mercy of the Father," he exhorted them.

Following his remarks, Pope Francis met with the groups going to China and India.  He then blessed the crosses that the missionary families will take with them on their journeys.

Christopher and Gina Crasto, along with their three children, were present at today's meeting with Pope Francis. The family from the west coast of India will go on a mission this year to the small town of Ranchi on India's east coast.

"We came here to receive this mandate, to be sent on mission, but today we received much more than that: we received Jesus Christ in the presence of the Holy Father," Christopher Crastro told CNA.

"We are blessed to be part of the mission, to be part of Holy Mother Church," he said.

Crastro has been part of the Neocatechumenal Way since he was a child, when his own parents joined. Through the organization, he said, "God has given us the possibility to live as a Christian family, to find Jesus Christ, to meet Jesus Christ in the Church."

"I never dreamed that we would meet Pope Francis," he continued, adding that the meeting with the Pope reconfirmed his own desire to live a missionary life. "Today I find myself ready and willing to go anywhere where the Church needs me, where I can find fulfillment in preaching the Word of God."