Vatican City — Calling himself "a bit feminist," Pope Francis praised women religious for always heading to the "front lines" to bring the church's tenderness and motherly love to those most in need.
"The church thanks you for this, it is a beautiful witness. This is being close. Be close! Close to people's problems, real problems," he said during an audience Thursday with young consecrated women and men from around the world, including Iraq and Syria.
He began the audience by directing attention to "our martyrs in Iraq and Syria, our martyrs of today," revealing that he now keeps on him a small cross that a priest held in his hand while he was being murdered for his faith.
"A few days ago in [St. Peter's] Square, an Iraqi priest came up to me and gave me a small cross. It was the cross being held by the priest who was beheaded for not renouncing Jesus Christ," he said. The Vatican press office had no information about the priest mentioned by the pope.
About 5,000 people gathered in the Vatican's Paul VI hall for the hour-long papal audience; they were taking part in the World Meeting for Young Consecrated Men and Women Sept. 15-19.