Pope heads to immigrant father’s hometown for birthday party

PORTACOMARO, Itatly (AP) — Pope Francis returns 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.”

The visit to Francis’ ancestral homeland to renew ties with family touches on keystones of Francis’ papacy, including the importance of honoring the elderly and the human toll of migration. Francis’ private visit Saturday will be followed by a public one Sunday to celebrate Mass for the local faithful, where he could well reflect on his family’s own experience migrating to Argentina.

The pope’s father, Mario Jose Francisco Bergoglio, and his paternal grandparents arrived in Buenos Aires on Jan. 25, 1929 to reach other relatives at the tail end of a mass decades-long emigration from Italy that the pope has honored with two recent saints: St. Giovanni Battista Scalabrini and St. Artedime Zatti.

The future pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was born nearly eight years later in Buenos Aires, after the elder Bergoglio met and married Regina Maria Sivori, whose family was also of Italian immigrant stock, hailing from the Liguria region. Francis grew up speaking the Piedmont dialect of his paternal grandmother Rosa, who cared for him most days.

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