By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The prayers of nuns and monks are like “oxygen” for all members of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis said.

“Their prayer is the invisible force that sustains the mission,” he told people at his weekly general audience April 26.

As part of his series of talks about “zeal” for evangelization, Pope Francis spoke about nuns and monks. These are “sisters and brothers who renounce themselves and renounce the world to imitate Jesus on the path of poverty, chastity, obedience and to intercede on behalf of all.”

They are also great evangelizers, he said.

People might wonder how men and women religious who live in monasteries and convents help the proclamation of the Gospel, the pope said. “Wouldn’t they do better to put their energies into the mission” by evangelizing outside a monastery and in the world?

“In reality, monks and nuns are the beating heart of the proclamation,” he said, and “their prayer is oxygen for all the members of the body of Christ.”

In fact, the pope said, the patron saint of missions is a nun, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Writing about discovering her vocation, she said, “I understood that the church had a heart and that this heart was burning with love.”

“My vocation is love!” she wrote. “In the heart of the church, my mother, I shall be love.”

Contemplative nuns and monks, the pope said, pray and work in silence for the entire church.

“This is love: it is the love that is expressed by praying for the church, working for the church, in the monasteries,” he said. This love for everyone “is translated into their prayer of intercession.”

“Among monks and nuns there is a universal solidarity,” Pope Francis said. Whatever happens in the world, it finds a place in their hearts, and they pray.”

Their hearts are like “an antenna,” he said. “It picks up what happens in the world and prays and intercedes for this. And in this way, they live in union with the Lord and with everyone.”

“They weep for their sins — after all, we are all sinners — and they also weep for the sins of the world, and they pray and intercede with their hands and heart raised up,” he said.

“They are the true strength, the true force that carries the people of God forward,” he said, praying that God bless the church with “new monasteries” and “new monks and nuns to carry the church forward with their intercession.”