Pope Francis on Monday encouraged the bishops from northern Africa to dialogue with and encounter other groups, fostering hope for good relations between Muslims and Christians in the region.

"Interreligious dialogue is an important part of the life of your Churches," Pope Francis said March 2, addressing the bishops of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya during their ad limina visit to Rome.

"The most effective antidote to any form of violence is education in the discovery and acceptance of difference as richness and fertility. Therefore, it is essential that priests, religious and laypeople in your dioceses are well-prepared in this area" he said, adding it is important to "deepen dialogue in truth and love between Christians and Muslims."

In each of these nations, Muslims constitute at least 97 percent of the population, and in none of them are Catholics more than 1 percent, which suggests the importance of interreligious dialogue to the Christian communities there.

Both Tunisia and Libya experienced revolutions in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring; Libya has been in chaos since then, a fact to which Pope Francis referred near the beginning of his address: "For several years your region has been experiencing significant changes, which offer hope that aspirations to greater freedom and dignity may be fulfilled and which favour greater freedom of conscience. But at times these events have led to outbursts of violence."

"I wish to mention, in particular, the courage, loyalty and perseverance of the bishops of Libya, as well as the priests, consecrated persons and laypeople who stay in this country despite the many dangers. They are genuine witnesses of the Gospel. I thank them with all my heart and encourage them to continue their efforts in contributing to peace and reconciliation throughout the region."

He reminded the bishops that the priests working in their dioceses "are from many countries, and at times it is difficult for them to adapt to new situations. Therefore, it is particularly important to be close to them and to be attentive to their continuing formation so that they can live their ministry fully and serenely."

"At the heart of your mission and at the origin of your hope there is, above all, the personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the certainty that he is at work in the world where you have been sent on his behalf. The evangelical vitality of your dioceses depends, therefore, on the quality of your spiritual and sacramental life."

He drew particular attention to Augustine of Hippo and Cyprian of Carthage, early saints of the region, as well as to Bl. Charles de Foucauld, a hermit who was killed in Algeria in 1916. He then mentioned "closer to us, those religious men and women who have offered everything to God and to their brothers, to the point of sacrificing their own lives. It is your responsibility to develop this spiritual heritage first among your own faithful, but also by opening it up to all."

Pope Francis commended the restoration of Christian churches in Algeria in recent years, concluding that "by welcoming all, kindly and without proselytizing, your communities show that they wish to be a Church with open doors."

"In the sometimes difficult situations which face your region, your pastoral ministry has numerous joys," he reminded them. "Thus, welcome the new disciples who join you, having discovered the love of God made manifest in Jesus; it is a beautiful sign from the Lord. By showing their compatriots concern for the building up of a society always more fraternal and open, they demonstrate they are all children of one Father."

Speaking of interreligious dialogue, Pope Francis said the "imagination of charity can open up countless ways of bringing the breath of the Gospel to the most diverse cultures and social sectors. As you are aware, mutual ignorance is the source of many misunderstandings and even conflicts."

"A Church of encounter and dialogue, you also wish to be at the service of all without distinction," he noted. "Often with modest means, you manifest the charity of Christ and all the Church towards the poor, the sick, the elderly, women in need, and the imprisoned. Thank you for your work in the assistance of the many immigrants from Africa who seek in your countries a place of transit or of welcome. Recognizing their human dignity and working to awaken consciences before so many human tragedies, you show God's love for each one of them."

Pope Francis also assured the bishops of the universal Church's support. "You are in 'the peripheries', with your special service of making manifest the presence of Christ and his Church in this region. Your testimony of life in simplicity and poverty is an eminent sign for all the Church. Be assured that the Successor of Peter accompanies you on your rough road, and encourages you always to be men of hope."