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Pope visits Asti, Italy, birthplace of his father

by NICOLE WINFIELD and GIANFRANCO STARA The Associated Press | November 21, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Pope Francis presides over the holy mass in the Cathedral of Asti, northern Italy, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, to meet the diocesan community from which his parents had left to emigrate to Argentina and the young people from all over the region on the occasion of the XXXVII World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)


ASTI, Italy -- Pope Francis honored his northern Italian roots on Sunday by celebrating a special Mass in his father's hometown and encouraging younger generations to not be indifferent to the poverty and misery all around them.

Thousands of people turned out to greet Francis during his rare personal weekend getaway to the province of Asti, near Turin, and he returned the favor by taking a long popemobile ride around town.


On Saturday, he made a private visit to relatives who still live in the area and celebrated the 90th birthday of his second cousin. On Sunday, he was given the honorary citizenship of Asti and celebrated Mass in the city's cathedral, where he assumed the role of a local parish priest ministering to his flock.

"From these lands, my father set out as an immigrant to Argentina, and to these lands, rendered precious by the rich fruits of the soil and above all by the native industriousness of their people, I have now returned to rediscover and savor my roots," he said at the start of his homily.

Asti Bishop Marco Prastaro told Francis he is always welcome back home and recalled that when he was elected pontiff in 2013, Francis quipped that his fellow cardinals had gone to the "ends of the Earth" to find a new pope.

"Today we'd like to think that Asti, the land of your family roots, is the beginning of the world," Prastaro said as the pope chuckled.

Francis hasn't returned home to his own birthplace in Buenos Aires since assuming the papacy nearly 10 years ago, and he rarely speaks about his family, siblings or childhood. The exception is his frequent reference to the important role his paternal grandmother, Rosa, had in his upbringing and in passing along her Catholic faith.

Francis' grandmother, Rosa Vassallo, and the pope's grandfather ran a cafe in Turin and left Italy to join family members who had settled in Argentina, part of the mass migration of Italians to the Americas at the start of the last century. They and their only son, the pope's father, Mario Jose Francisco Bergoglio, arrived in Buenos Aires in early 1929.

Once there, Mario Bergoglio met another descendant of Italian immigrant stock, Regina Maria Sivori, whom he married in 1935. A year later, the first of their five children was born: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future pope.

  photo  Pope Francis presides over the holy mass in the Cathedral of Asti, northern Italy, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, to meet the diocesan community from which his parents had left to emigrate to Argentina and the young people from all over the region on the occasion of the XXXVII World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis presides over the holy mass in the Cathedral of Asti, northern Italy, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, to meet the diocesan community from which his parents had left to emigrate to Argentina and the young people from all over the region on the occasion of the XXXVII World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis arrives to preside over the holy mass in the Cathedral of Asti, northern Italy, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, to meet the diocesan community from which his parents had left to emigrate to Argentina and the young people from all over the region on the occasion of the XXXVII World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis arrives to preside over the holy mass in the Cathedral of Asti, northern Italy, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, to meet the diocesan community from which his parents had left to emigrate to Argentina and the young people from all over the region on the occasion of the XXXVII World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis is welcomed by the bishop of Asti, Marco Prastaro, left, as he arrives to preside over the holy mass in the Cathedral of Asti, northern Italy, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, to meet the diocesan community from which his parents had left to emigrate to Argentina and the young people from all over the region on the occasion of the XXXVII World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
 
 
  photo  In this image made available by Vatican Media, Pope Francis sits for lunch in the home of a cousin, Carla Rabezzana, right, in the town of Portacomaro, about 10 kilometers (six miles) east of Asti, northern Italy, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. Rabezzana told local media that she and the pope kept up their connections over the years as he would stay with her while visiting Turin, where she long lived, before he became pope. (Vatican Media via AP)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis, second from left, presides over the holy mass in the Cathedral of Asti, northern Italy, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, and meets the diocesan community from which his parents had left to emigrate to Argentina and the young people from all over the region on the occasion of the XXXVII World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis celebrates the holy mass in the Cathedral of Asti, northern Italy, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. The Pontiff returned to his father's birthplace in northern Italy on Saturday for the first time since ascending the papacy to celebrate the 90th birthday of a second cousin who long knew him as simply "Giorgio." (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
 
 
  photo  Pope Francis celebrates the holy mass in the Cathedral of Asti, northern Italy, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. The Pontiff returned to his father's birthplace in northern Italy on Saturday for the first time since ascending the papacy to celebrate the 90th birthday of a second cousin who long knew him as simply "Giorgio." (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
 
 



 Gallery: Pope visits father's hometown



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