Pope Francis on Monday met Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson and members of the Knights of Columbus supreme council, praising the organization’s charitable work in Rome and in defense of life.

“Today the Knights of Columbus continue their work of evangelical charity and fraternity in a variety of fields,” the pope said Feb. 10. “I think in particular of your faithful witness to the sacredness and dignity of human life, evident at both the local and national levels.”

He also noted the Knights’ dedication to aiding, “both materially and spiritually, those Christian communities in the Middle East that are suffering the effects of violence, war and poverty.”

“I thank all the members of your Order for seeing in our persecuted and displaced brothers and sisters of that region neighbors for whom you are a sign of God’s infinite love,” he said.

The administrative council of the Knights of Columbus is on a pilgrimage to Rome to mark 100 years of charitable activity in the Eternal City.

In his speech, Pope Francis noted the centenary of the group’s humanitarian aid in Rome, which started after World War I, at the invitation of Pope Benedict XV.

“The Knights responded generously, establishing sports centers for youth that quickly became places for education, catechesis and the distribution of food and other essentials so needed at that time,” he said, adding that through these activities they have been faithful to the vision of their founder, Venerable Michael McGivney.

Francis also praised the group for its “unswerving devotion to the Successor of Peter,” including through the Vicarius Christi fund, the annual proceeds of which are given to the pope for his personal charities.

“In our world, marked by divisions and inequalities, the generous commitment of your Order to serve all in need offers, especially to young people, an important inspiration to overcome a globalization of indifference and build together a more just and inclusive society,” he said.

Pope Francis also met with Carl Anderson in a separate private audience Feb. 10.

As head of the Knights of Columbus, Anderson is the chief executive officer and chairman of the board. He was elected supreme knight in 2000, and earlier served as supreme secretary and state deputy of the District of Columbia.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order, was founded in New Haven, Conn., in 1882 by Venerable Michael J. McGivney, a parish priest. It has 1.8 million members worldwide who perform volunteer service and advance the order’s key principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.