VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The courageous witness of those who have given their life for the Gospel is needed in a world that is often antagonistic toward its message, Pope Francis said.

“We too are living in a time of martyrdom, and in the midst of a culture so often hostile to the Gospel. I urge you to have that same selfless spirit as your predecessors did,” he said April 14 during an audience with seminarians from Rome’s Pontifical Scots College.

The pope met with the seminarians to mark the 400th anniversary of when the first seminarians in Rome made an oath to Pope Paul V to return to Scotland and carry out their priestly ministry.

The pope was greeted by Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, who recalled the history of the oath made in 1616, one year after the martyrdom of St. John Ogilvie, a Scottish Jesuit killed for refusing to deny his faith during the time of the Reformation in Scotland.

“Those events four centuries ago, the martyrdom of St. John Ogilvie and the swearing of the Mission Oath, helped to settle the identity of the Pontifical Scots College as a seminary,” Archbishop Tartaglia said.

Recalling the oath made by the seminarians in 1616, Pope Francis said their decision and determination to return to Scotland and preach the Gospel “was born of a martyr’s blood.”

“The ‘yes’ proclaimed by the 16 men 400 years ago was eloquent not simply for their good intentions, but rather because they persevered and prepared themselves in every way, returning to Scotland to face the hardships that awaited them, even if it meant becoming martyrs themselves,” the pope said.

Encouraging them to “give yourselves generously to your priestly formation,” Pope Francis added that in doing so, they “will honor the history and sacrifices we recall today.”

“You will also become in this moment a sign to the Scottish people, especially the youth, if you encounter them in their everyday lives, if you reach out to those who are furthest from Christ. Show them, each and every one, that God is always with us and that his mercy endures forever,” he said.