Pope Francis encouraged the bishops of Greece to engage in dialogue and solidarity, values he said are particularly necessary in fighting pessimism during the country's ongoing financial crisis.

Fraternal communion is "indispensable for the growth of the Church in Greece, as well as for the progress of all of society," he said Feb. 5 to the Greek bishops, who had come to Rome for their ad limina visit.

"This is even more true in your nation," he continued, "which at the moment has more than ever the need for dialogue among its diverse political and cultural components, for the safeguarding and promotion of the common good."

Greece's financial crisis began in 2010, when it was discovered that the nation's public debt was unsustainably high – it is currently 174 percent of the national GDP. The country was bailed out by several other nations and institutions, and the government has taken unpopular austerity measures to reign in the debt.

But in January elections, an anti-austerity party won elections on a platform of rolling back austerity measures and rejecting international bailout extensions.

In the face of the ongoing crisis, Pope Francis told the bishops: "do not tire of exhorting everyone to confidence in the future, in contrast to the so-called culture of pessimism. The spirit of solidarity, which all Christians are called to give witness to in the concreteness of daily life, is a leaven of hope."

"It is important to maintain constructive relations with the authorities of your nation, as well as with the diverse components of society, in so as to spread this perspective of solidarity, in an attitude of dialogue and collaboration also with other European nations."

The Pope encouraged the strengthening of Greek cultural traditions and of the "Christian roots of Greek society," while at the same times encouraging openness to the cultural and spiritual values brought by the many immigrants to Greece "without distinction of race, language, or religious creed."

The united witness of Christians can welcome the disadvantaged and "truly contribute to the transformation of society, with the aim of making it more closely resemble the Gospel ideal," he said. "I am glad to know that you are already engaged in this pastoral and charitable activity, especially in favor of immigrants, including those who are undocumented, many of whom are Catholic."

Pope Francis said dialogue was also important for the Greek bishops with regard to the Orthodox – an estimated 97 percent of Greeks are Eastern Orthodox. Ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox, he said, is an "indispensable prospect for a serene and spiritually fruitful future for the whole of your nation."

He asked that the bishops encourage priestly vocations, "to address the insufficient number of clergy."

"In this regard, I ask you to convey to the priests of your dioceses, many of whom are elderly, all my affection and my appreciation for their apostolic zeal, despite their limited means."

He lamented "the weakening of the family, caused also by the process of secularization, which requires the commitment of the Church to persevere in programs of formation for marriage."

In conclusion, Pope Francis said that "I wish to express my acknowledgement of the work of evangelization that, despite many difficulties, you are carrying out in Greece … I encourage you to persevere in your mission with evangelical joy."