Pope Francis on Thursday hailed a foundation that has helped vulnerable children and mothers for the past 30 years as “a sign of hope.”

The pope told members of the Arché Foundation that he was grateful for their work during a meeting in the Clementine Hall in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on Sept. 2.

“Your welcoming communities are a sign of hope first of all for them, for these women and their children. But they are also a sign of hope for you who share your lives with them; and for the volunteers, the young people, the young couples, who in these communities experience service not only for the poor -- which is very good -- but even better with the poor,” he said.

The Arché Foundation was founded by Fr. Giuseppe Bettoni in Milan, northern Italy, in 1991 to help HIV-positive children and their families. Today, the foundation offers support and care services to vulnerable children and their families.

In his address, the pope thanked Bettoni for his 30 years of service, joking that the young-looking priest must have begun the project after his First Communion.

He noted that the foundation’s name is an Ancient Greek word meaning “beginning.”

He said: “You have called it Arché, which recalls the origin, the beginning, and we know that in the beginning there is Love, the love of God.”

“All that is life, all that is beautiful, good and true comes from there, from God who is love, just as human life comes from a mother’s heart and womb, and just as Jesus came from a mother’s heart and womb, who is Love made flesh, made man.”

He continued: “And so, in this logic, in the beginning, there are the faces: for you, they are the faces of those mothers and children whom you have welcomed and helped to free themselves from the bonds of violence and mistreatment. Also migrant women who carry in their flesh dramatic experiences.”

He said that the group ensured that the familiar icon of the Mother and Child did not remain simply “a pretty picture.”

“You have translated it into a concrete experience, made up of stories and specific faces,” he said. “This certainly means problems, difficulties, hardships... But at the same time, it means joy, the joy of seeing that sharing opens up paths to freedom, rebirth, and dignity.”

He observed that the foundation would shortly inaugurate a house in Rome that will be home to a new community.

“May it be a place where you live God’s style, which is closeness, tenderness, and compassion. And may the structure always be at the service of people, not the other way around,” he said.

“May the Holy Spirit always renew in you the joy of the Gospel, and may Our Lady protect you. Please pray for me too. Thank you!”