Pope honors family roots in northern Italy with rare outing

Pope Francis honored his northern Italian roots on Sunday by celebrating a special mass in his father’s hometown and encouraging younger generations not to be indifferent to the poverty and misery around them.

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

On Saturday he paid a private visit to relatives who still live in the area and celebrated his second cousin’s 90th birthday.

On Sunday, he was awarded honorary citizenship of Asti and celebrated mass at the city’s cathedral, where he assumed the role of a local vicar serving his flock.

“It was from these countries that my father immigrated to Argentina, and to these lands, made 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 enjoy my roots ‘ he said at the beginning of his sermon.

Asti Bishop Marco Prastaro told Francis that he is always welcome home, recalling that when Francis was elected pope in 2013, he quipped that his fellow cardinals went to the “ends of the world” to appoint a new pope Find.

“Today we would like to believe that Asti, the land of your family roots, is the beginning of the world,” Prastaro said while the pope chuckled.

Francis has not returned home to his own birthplace in Buenos Aires since assuming the papacy almost 10 years ago, and he rarely speaks about his family, siblings or childhood.

The exception is his frequent reference to the important role played by his paternal grandmother, Rosa, in his upbringing and in passing on her Catholic faith.

Francis used part of the Piedmontese dialect that Rosa taught him to thank the people of Asti for welcoming them, urging young people in particular to “stop thinking about ourselves, wasting our lives and comfort or the latest chasing fads, but working towards the heights, setting out on the journey, leaving behind your fear of holding the hand of someone in need.” Francis’ grandmother, Rosa Vassallo, and the pope’s grandfather ran a café in Turin and left Italy to join family members who had settled in Argentina, part of the mass migration of Italians to America at the beginning of the last century.

She and her only son, the Pope’s father, Mario Jose Francisco Bergoglio, arrived in Buenos Aires in early 1929.

There Mario Bergoglio met another descendant of Italian immigrants, Regina Maria Sivori, whom he married in 1935. A year later the first of their five children was born: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who later became Pope.

The Bergoglio family had originally planned to set sail from Italy on the ocean liner Principessa Mafalda in late 1927, but their departure was delayed as they sold their home and Turin café.

In the end, the Mafalda sank off Bahia, Brazil, on October 25, 1927, killing at least 300 of her more than 1,000 passengers and crew. The Bergoglios set sail the following year on the liner Giulio Cesare and have always “thanked Divine Providence” for not leaving on the Mafalda, the future Pope wrote in 1990.

According to family legend, Grandmother Rosa descended from the Giulio Cesare in Buenos Aires in a long coat trimmed with foxes, even though it was midsummer in the southern hemisphere. In his biography of the Pope, “Pope Francis Untying the Knots,” historian Paul Vallely explained, “Sewn into the lining were all the proceeds from the sale of the family’s home and cafe in Piedmont.”

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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