VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The families of Eastern-rite Catholic priests give an important witness to what is healthy and wonderful about family life, Pope Francis said.

Speaking to laypeople, clergy and religious of the Slovak Catholic Church — a Byzantine-rite church that has maintained its tradition of ordaining both celibate and married men — the pope said, “the families of priests live a unique mission today.”

“When the very model of the family is called into question, if not attacked outright, you offer a healthy and exemplary testimony of life,” he said in his talk Oct. 6.

The pope encouraged the small Slovak Catholic Church, which also has a diocese in Canada — the Eparchy of Sts. Cyril and Methodius of Toronto — to safeguard its Byzantine tradition, “which I, too, came to know and love when I was younger.”

“Rediscover it and live it to the full just as the Second Vatican Council taught,” he said.

“The European continent, both east and west, needs to rediscover its roots and vocation; and from Christian roots, only solid trees can grow which bear the fruits of full respect for the dignity of the human person in every condition and every phase of life,” the pope said.