Exclusive: Pope Francis Revisits His Italian Heritage - image  on https://www.mypope.com.ph
Sunday, September 20, 2020
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Exclusive: Pope Francis Revisits His Italian Heritage

In case you didn’t know, the Argentinian Pope’s roots can be traced back to Italy!

In 2015, Pope Francis visited Turin, Italy. He stayed there for less than 48 hours, but what he did during his short trip was truly incredible. The Pope was filled with energy, enthusiasm, and zeal, and he had meetings and held Masses where more than 200,000 people joined him. At the same time, he was also able to slip in some private family time, because, in case you didn’t know, the Argentinian Pope’s roots can be traced back to Italy! (READ: How to Raise a Pope)

A Family Reunion

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Lost in Thought Pope Francis prays silently in front of the high altar of The Church of Saint Teresa of Ávila. (Photo from Vatican Media)

Lolo Kiko began delving into his family memories before Sunday Mass in Piazza Vittorio. In the temporary sacristy, he met Iolanda, Maria Teresa, and Giulia—three second cousins who are daughters of two older brothers of the Pope’s beloved paternal grandmother Rosa Vassallo. (Read: From Pupil to Pope: Lolo Kiko During His Schoolboy Days)

The three cousins gave the Santo Papa a small bag of tasty Ligurian amaretti—delicious, chewy almond cookies—and a grand gift, a painting of Mary, Mother of Divine Grace, to whom the Santuario del Todocco—which is located in Pezzolo Valle Uzzone (Cuneo), in the Diocese of Alba in Italy—is dedicated. She is also believed to protect the lands between Piedmont and Ligura, the cradle of Nonna Rosa’s family. The Pope then had lunch with some Bergoglio relatives: 30 cousins covering several generations! 

A Special Church

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Photos from Enrico Casarini and Vatican Media

Between moments spent with relatives, Pope Francis had another touching experience: He visited the Church of St. Teresa of Ávila in Turin, where his paternal grandparents got married in 1907, and his father Mario was baptized in 1908.

The church is very central: located at number 5 of Via Santa Teresa, perpendicular to Via Roma, it is along a beautiful arcaded street leading from Porta Nuova station to Piazza
Castello, the heart of Turin. Taking a walk along Via Santa Teresa, you will get the impression that the church is hiding, hanging back from the two modern buildings lanking
it. (Read: Pope Francis Before He Became a Priest)

Inside the church, the baptistery is immediately to the left, while the second chapel on the right is dedicated to the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. It is here, in front of one of his favorite saints, that the Pope stopped to pray during this visit. On the sides of the high altar, where the Bergoglios exchanged “I Do’s,” there are two chapels designed by Filippo Juvarra, an architect who was one of the masters of Italian Baroque.

Traces of Home

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(Left) Giovanni Bergoglio and Rosa Vassallo, the grandparents of the Pope, said their “I Do’s” at the Church of St. Teresa of Ávila on August 20, 1907. Here we have their marriage certificate. (Right) A family photo of Pope Francis’ father and paternal grandparents. (Photos from Il Mio Papa and Ansa)

Once you step out of the church and onto the street, a yellow building stands right in front of you. This yellow building is now located on the site where the Pope’s grandparents lived from 1907 and 1911, and where his father, Mario Bergoglio, was born. They were a devoted and active family in the community, and it was certainly not diicult for them to go to church—they lived just right across the street! It was here that the Pontif ’s grandfather also worked as a liquorist (a blender of wines and liqueurs with herbs).

The Bergoglio family eventually left Turin for Asti in 1918, but there will always be something left of them in Via Santa Teresa.

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