Pope honors family roots in northern Italy with rare outing
ASTI, Italy (AP) — 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.