As thousands of teens and young adults from throughout Europe gathered in Madrid to pray in the New Year, Pope Francis urged them to open their hearts to God and to one another.

Some 15,000 young people were expected in the Spanish capital for the prayer meeting Dec. 28-Jan. 1 organized by the France-based Community of Taize.

The theme of the meeting was "Let us not forget hospitality."

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, sent a message to participants, conveying Pope Francis' prayers for them and his hope that the ecumenical gathering of Christians would be a time "to open the door of your heart to the Lord and his word, to make visible and grow a culture of encounter, welcoming each other with respect for your differences."

The pope "invites you to make a place for the Lord in your life and discover that, through friendship with Jesus, it is possible to live a generous hospitality, to learn to be enriched by the differences of others and to increase your own talents to become builders of bridges between churches, religions and peoples," the cardinal's message said.

The pope, he said, also asked that young people "welcome and support your older brothers and sisters in the faith and use your talents, your energy and your strength to improve the world and to ensure that every person can find his or her place in the great human family."

Accepting the challenge of hospitality, he said, should be seen especially in young people's efforts to reach out to "those who are kept at a distance, rejected or excluded, small and poor."