Pope Francis told an audience of Haiti earthquake survivors and relief agencies that restoration is only possible when communities unite in charity, tearing down walls of individualism and focusing on others.

"Charity is even yet more authentic and more incisive when it is lived in communion," the Pope told audience attendees Jan. 10.

Communion, he said, "shows that charity is not merely about helping others, but is a dimension that permeates the whole of life and breaks down all those barriers of individualism which prevent us from encountering one another."

The Roman Pontiff offered his words to participants of a Jan. 10 conference he called for in the Vatican to commemorate the earthquake that devastated Haiti five years ago, and to draw attention to the restoration that both has been done, and still needs to be done.

Organized by the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" as well as the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the conference was entitled "The Communion of the Church: Memory and Hope for Haiti Five Years after the Earthquake."

A massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake ripped through the island of Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, destroying much of the nation's capital city, Port-au-Prince. The quake killed an estimated 230,000 people, and left more than 1.5 million people without shelter.

Three young men who lost a leg as a result of the quake were also present for the Vatican encounter.

After receiving prosthetics with the help of the Knights of Columbus in partnership with the University of Miami's affiliate project Medishare, the young men have gone on to play soccer on a national team of amputees called "Team Zaryen."

In his address to the conference participants, Pope Francis noted how a community can only be rebuilt when the human person, in all of their integral components, is at the center of activities and initiatives.

No country can be fully restored unless each individual is also rebuilt in "his or her totality," he said, explaining that this means "ensuring that the material needs of every person be met, and that they be able to be free to assume their responsibilities and to further their own spiritual and religious lives."

Because of the transcendental nature of the human being, humanitarian and pastoral initiatives do not conflict with one another, but complement each other, the pontiff observed, noting that a combination of the two helps persons to mature and be able to devote themselves to helping others.

Ecclesial communion is another essential aspect of reconstructing a society, the Bishop of Rome observed, pointing out how much charitable work has been carried out by various dioceses, religious institutes and charitable organizations, as well as many lay men and women.

"This variety of agencies is a positive factor, since it is a sign of the vitality of the Church and of the generosity of so many," he said, and thanked God for their witness of living the "law of charity," which he said resides at the core of the Gospel message.

Charity composes the innermost life of the Church and is shown though the joint efforts of many, he said, noting that it is Christ who shows us the true path of service to others.

"It would be a contradiction to live charity apart from one another!" the Pope explained, and invited those present to "strengthen every possible means of working together."

Pope Francis concluded his address by drawing attention to the importance of the local church, saying that it is there that the Christian life is "made tangible."

He encouraged the bishops and priests of Haiti to increase their zeal, so that the faithful of their dioceses and parishes would be inspired to renew efforts in Christian formation and evangelization, thus rendering the Church in the country "more alive and fruitful."

"The witness of evangelical charity is effective when it is sustained by personal relationship with Jesus in prayer, in listening to the word of God, and in the reception of the Sacraments. This is the true 'strength' of the local Church," the pontiff observed.

The Pope closed his address by thanking those present for their efforts in helping to rebuild the destruction of Haiti, and prayed for the fruitful continuation of their work.