Pope Francis goes back to his roots in visit to northern Italy town

PORTACOMARO, Italy (Reuters) - Pope Francis went back to his roots on Saturday, visiting the northern area of Italy his ancestors left for Argentina and dropping in on an older cousin to celebrate her 90th birthday.

Francis' father Mario Bergoglio and fraternal grandparents left the then-poor area in 1929 to seek a better life in Argentina. There, his father met and married the future pope's mother, Regina Maria Sivori, also of Italian immigrant stock.

The future pope was born Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires in 1936 and his paternal grandmother Rosa taught him to speak the dialect of the northern Italian Piedmont region.

Francis' first day of the weekend visit to the area was strictly private. He had lunch with relatives in the simple home of Carla Rabezzana, a second cousin who recently turned 90.

"I still call him Giorgio," she told local media before the visit.

A picture released by Vatican Media showed the two laughing heartily, both sitting at a table with the region's traditional bulging, irregular-shaped bread sticks by the plates.

Francis later dropped in another cousin's house and also visited a home for the elderly.

On Sunday, he is due to celebrate a public Mass in the provincial capital, Asti.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Ros Russell)