VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Refugees, often perceived by society as an added cost or a problem, are a gift and a reflection of the face of God, Pope Francis said.

People who escape oppression, war, pollution or “the unjust distribution of the planet’s resources are a brother and sister with whom to share bread, home and life,” he said in a video message to the Centro Astalli, the Jesuit Refugee Service center in Rome.

“You are witnesses of how our clement and merciful God can transform the evil and injustice you have suffered into a good for all,” he said.

The pope’s message to refugees and volunteers April 19 marked the 35th anniversary of the center’s founding by Father Pedro Arrupe, superior of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983.

Pope Francis said the center’s work in assisting refugees is a courageous form of following Jesus’ words, “For I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”

Every refugee “who knocks on our doors bears the face of God, the flesh of Christ,” he said. “Your experience of pain and of hope reminds us that we are all foreigners and pilgrims on this earth, welcomed by someone with generosity and without reward.”

The pope asked forgiveness from the refugees for society’s indifference toward their plight out of fear “for the change of life and mentality that your presence requires.”

However, he added, the presence of refugees can serve as bridge to unite distant lands as well as different cultures and religions, allowing people to “rediscover our common humanity.”

In welcoming refugees, the pope said, the Centro Astalli has continued Father Arrupe’s “prophetic vision,” and he thanked them for showing that in walking together, “the path becomes less frightening.”

“Thirty-five years are only the beginning of a path that becomes more necessary, the only path for a reconciled coexistence,” he said. “May you always be witnesses of the beauty of encounter; help our society listen to the voice of refugees.”