In his general audience address Pope Francis said that children are gift to parents and society, and that there is no future for a civilization which views them as merely an inconvenience.

"A society that is not surrounded by children, that considers them a problem, a burden, has no future," the Pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square for his Feb. 11 general audience address.

Children, he said, "are the fruit of their parents' love and a gift of God, whose own infinite love bestows inviolable dignity and worth upon each person who comes into the world."

Pope Francis' words on children came as part of a series of catechesis on the family that he began last fall, in order to reflect ahead of this year's Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family in October.

After exploring the roles of both mothers and fathers in recent weeks, the Pope turned to the role of children as "a gift of God for parents and society." He alluded to the day's liturgy, in which the first reading from Isaiah speaks of the joy and hope children bring to their parents.

"A child is loved for being a child: not because they are beautiful, healthy or good; and not because they think like me or fulfill my desires," he said.

"Children are the joy of family and society. They are not a problem of reproductive biology, or one of many ways to realize oneself in life. Let alone their parent's possession. Children are a gift. Do you understand? Children are a gift!"

The Pope went on to note how everyone has had the experience of being a child. To be children, he said, allows us to discover the free dimension of love, and to have the experience of being loved before doing anything to deserve it.

We are loved as children "before knowing how to speak or think, even before coming into the world," Francis observed, saying that this is "a fundamental experience" in order to know the love of God, who is himself the source of the "miracle" of life.

The Pope then noted that he often encounters pregnant mothers in his audiences who ask for a blessing for their unborn children, saying that they do it "because these children are loved before coming into the world!"

Limitless love such as this gives humanity the strength to face life's difficulties without fear as well as the ability to build a new world, he said. This love also allows society to work toward becoming better people without falling into "arrogance or presumption."

Pope Francis then turned to the fourth commandment, which instructs children to "honor your father and mother."

This commandment, he said "invites us to see in the relationship between the generations a sacred bond," and at the same time serves as the "basis of every other type of human respect."

A society which "discards" its elders is one "without dignity," the Pope explained, while a culture that views children as inconvenient or burdensome is one that has no future.

"We must know how to recognize a child's worth, and children should always honor their parents," he said.

Parents must know how to be responsible when thinking about growing their families, he said, but stressed that "the simple fact of having many children cannot be seen as an irresponsible decision."

The Pope closed his address by praying that Jesus, as the son of a human family, would help society as a whole to place greater value of the gift of life, of the family and of each person's responsibility to help youth look to the future "with joy, hope and courage."

He then offered personal greetings to pilgrims present from various countries around the world, including England, Scotland, Ireland, the United States of America, Spain, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico.

After giving his blessing, the Pope prayed that Mary "grant to all her children the guidance and strength to grow in love and walk together to the gates of heaven," and greeted various cardinals, bishops and pilgrims present before leaving the square.