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Vatican City — The new pope speaks fluent Italian, albeit with a slight Spanish intonation, and his links to Italy are thought to have smoothed his election in the secret conclave.
He is the third successive pope to come from outside Italy after centuries of Italian domination of the papacy.
His cousins said the pope’s father worked for the railway, while his grandfather had a food store in the nearby town of Asti. “He came from poverty, he’s a good man,” Anna Bergoglio said.
The Bergoglios are now hoping for a family reunion.
“The Vatican called me because they want to organise the chance for us relatives to go and visit him there,” said Delmo Bergoglio, a 75-year-old.
Delmo Bergoglio says he is the last farmer left in a village where many of the vineyards producing brignolo and barolo wines have now been abandoned and earning a living is tough.
Pope Francis quietly returned to see his family’s birthplace a decade ago.
“I heard he took a handful of earth with him to Argentina,” said Delmo Bergoglio, wearing a thick sweater against the early spring chill.
The red-brick house where the pope’s ancestors lived rests at the very top of the hill.
“This is the house where the parents and grandparents of the new pope were born,” said its owner Giuseppe Quattrocchio, who bought the property 20 years ago.
He said other relatives of the pope, who live nearby, once came to see the house to take pictures which they sent to Bergoglio.
Down the road in the neighbouring village of Portacomaro, a collection of modest concrete houses with a modern church, locals are enjoying the attention brought by the papal links.
“The pope is here with us,” read coloured letters on a white banner hanging from the primary school balcony.