During his general audience Pope Francis lamented how mothers are often under-appreciated in their family role, and said they are key players in fighting against an individualistic, self-centered society. “To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers, in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war,” the pontiff told pilgrims during his Jan. 7 general audience address. Mothers, he said, “are often exploited because of their availability. Not even the Christian community values them properly, despite the eminent example of the Mother of Jesus.” The Roman Pontiff offered his words to those gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for his first general audience after the Christmas holiday vacation. He continued his catechesis on the family, which he initiated in December, by turning his gaze to the image of the Mother of Jesus at Christmas, who presents her son to the world. Mary’s example provides an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the role of all mothers in society and the Church, the Pope explained, noting how despite all of the “symbolic glorification” we give to motherhood, it is still under-valued. “All of us give credit to our mothers for life and many other things, but not always are they listened to or helped in everyday life…Their important contribution to the life of society, their daily sacrifices and their aspirations are not always properly appreciated,” he observed. To be a mother is a gift, the Pope said, and explained that through their sacrifices, mothers assist in helping society to overcome its self-centered tendencies, as well as its lack of openness, generosity and concern for others. “In this sense motherhood is more than childbearing; it is a life choice entailing sacrifice, respect for life, and commitment to passing on those human and religious values which are essential for a healthy society,” he said. Pope Francis then drew attention to the phrase “martyrdom of mothers” coined by Archbishop Oscar Romero, who served as the archbishop of El Salvador and was shot and killed while saying Mass in 1980 for speaking out against social injustices committed by the government. This maternal martyrdom, the pontiff noted, consists of a mother’s ability to offer herself in silence, prayer and total surrender, “without any fanfare,” to her motherly duties. A mother’s sensitivity “to all that threatens human life and welfare is a source of enrichment for society and the Church,” he said, observing how it is common in moments of difficulty to encounter the tenderness, dedication and moral strength of our mothers. “It is they, mothers, who often give the first roots of the faith, the ones that permeate deepest; without them not only would the faithful be lost, but also a good part of the deepest fire of our faith,” he explained. Pope Francis then greeted pilgrims present from various countries around the world, including Ireland, Finland, Indonesia, Australia, the United States, Spain, Mexico and Argentina. He concluded by asking those present to join him in thanking all mothers “for what they are and for all that they give to the Church and to our world,” and gave his blessing.