Pope Francis the First visited southern Italy on Sunday to conclude a convention of Italian churches that coincided with Italy's national elections and delivered a message that touched on key domestic campaign issues, including immigration, AP reported.
At the end of an open-air Mass in Matera, Francis asked Italians to have more children. "I would like to ask Italy: more births, more children," Francis said.
Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and Francis often lamented its "demographic winter."
Francis also spoke out on a perennial issue in Italy, recalling that Sunday coincided with the Catholic Church's World Day for Migrants and Refugees. Francis called for a future in which "God's plan" is realized and migrants and victims of trafficking live in peace and dignity, and for a more "inclusive and fraternal future."
The mass was celebrated by Francis' protégé, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, who is head of the Italian bishops' conference and has long been associated with the Sant'Egidio community, a charitable organization in Rome known for its work with migrants and the poor.
Francis, 85, looked tired during the visit, which was scheduled before Italy's snap election was announced and came a day after he made a separate day trip to the Umbrian city of Assisi. Francis has been using a cane and wheelchair this year because of sprained knee ligaments that make it difficult to walk and stand.
His trip to Matera, the southern Basilicata city known for its cave dwellings, underwent a slight last-minute change because of storms that hit much of the Italian peninsula overnight: Francis was originally scheduled to take off by helicopter Sunday morning from the Vatican heliport, but instead he flew to Matera by plane from Ciampino Airport in Rome.