Pope Francis’ first words at  Mass on Thursday were a prayer for the victims of yesterday’s attack on employees of a satirical newspaper in Paris, with a plea for the assailants’ conversion.

“The attack yesterday in Paris makes us think of so much cruelty – human cruelty – so much terrorism, both isolated terrorism and terrorism of the state. Of how much cruelty is man capable!” the Roman Pontiff lamented in his Jan. 8 homily.

He invited attendees to join him in praying during the Mass “for the victims of this cruelty. So many! And let us also pray for the cruel ones, that the Lord (may) change their hearts.”

Pope Francis addressed those present for Mass in the Vatican’s St. Martha Guesthouse chapel, which took place one day after the attack in Paris that left 12 dead. Gunmen had attacked the office of the Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly that has published insulting cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.

Pope Francis' homily focused on the love of God.

“God is love! It is only on the path of love that you can know God,” he said, explaining that loving our neighbors is a concrete way of loving God, who is understood more by the heart than by the intellect.

The Roman Pontiff then drew attention to the two commandments Christ refers to in scripture as being the most important, the first of which is to love the Lord God with all of one’s heart, mind and soul. The second is to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

In order to get to the first “we must ascend the steps of the second: that means that through our love for our neighbor we can get to know God, who is love. Only through loving can we reach love,” he said.

Because love comes from God, the person loves knows him, while it is impossible to know him for those who do not love, the Bishop of Rome explained, noting that God’s love is not like that “of a soap opera,” but is rather strong and lasting.

This love is manifested in Christ, the Son of God who came to save us, he observed, explaining that to truly know and love God “we must walk through life in love, love for our neighbor, love for those who hate us, love for all.”

Pope Francis then noted how it is in the person of Christ that we can contemplate the love of God, and said that it is by following his example that we can ascend the steps of love and arrive at knowledge of God, who is love itself.

He then turned to the day’s Gospel reading from Luke, which recounts the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish.

The people flocked to hear Christ, he said, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd, they had no orientation.”

Although there are many today who also lack a clear direction in their lives, the Lord is always there to accompany show us the way, just like he did with the disciples, who didn’t always understand what was going on, the Roman Pontiff observed.

“God’s love always awaits us; it always takes us by surprise. Our Father who loves us so much is always ready to forgive us. Always! Not once, always!”

The Roman Pontiff concluded his homily by praying that God would give all the grace to know one another, and to get to know God by advancing on the path of love.