In a video message to the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, Pope Francis said Thursday the suffering caused by the coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to change and to have greater solidarity with others.

“The pandemic has marked the lives of people and the history of our communities,” the pope said Feb. 18. “Faced with this and other realities, it is necessary to build tomorrow, look to the future, and for this we need the commitment, strength and dedication of all.”

“It is necessary to act with the style of the Samaritan,” he added, “which implies letting myself be struck by what I see, knowing that suffering will change me, and I must involve myself with the suffering of the other.”

Pope Francis’ video message was played at the opening of the four-day Religious Education Congress, which is taking place in an online format Feb. 18-21.

The first event was held in 1956 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

In past years the gathering has had approximately 40,000 attendees.

Organized by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the theme for the 2021 online gathering is “Proclaim the Promise!”

In his message, Pope Francis greeted those attending and congratulated the congress on its 65th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of a part of the congress known as “youth day.”

These initiatives “have already come a long and fruitful path,” the pope noted.

He also greeted all of the participating youth and young adults, inviting them to hope.

Hope “speaks to us of a reality that is deeply rooted in the human being, regardless of the concrete circumstances and historical conditions in which he lives,” he said. “You young people, be the poets of a new human beauty, a new fraternal and friendly beauty!”

Pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Francis said, “there is no doubt that we are in a difficult time for everyone, it is a time of crisis.”

“How pertinent, in this context, is the call of this congress: ‘Proclaim the promise!’ We need to announce and remember that we have God’s promise and that God always keeps his promises,” he stated.

Quoting from his 2020 encyclical on fraternity and social friendship, Fratelli tutti, he said, “we also have to remember that ‘each woman, each man and each generation holds within themselves a promise that can release new relational, intellectual, cultural and spiritual energies.’”

The pope praised the “testimonies of generous and free love” that have been visible during the pandemic and the “indelible mark” they left on our consciences.

“They and they have been the announcement and fulfillment of God’s promise,” he said. “In crises, one’s own heart is revealed: its solidity, its mercy, its greatness, its smallness. Crises put us before the need to choose and choose and commit ourselves to a path.”

He reminded participants in the congress to build dreams together “as children of this same land that shelters us all, each one with the richness of their faith or convictions, each with their own voice -- but yes -- all brothers.”

“May this be the great impulse that you live, share and take away from your participation in this Congress of Religious Education,” he closed. Entrusting attendees to the “tenderness of Mary, Mother of the Church,” he imparted his blessing.