ROME (REUTERS) - Pope Francis made a surprise visit to a shantytown on Rome's outskirts on Sunday, stunning poor residents, many of them from his native South America.
The pope was on his way to a visit to a parish in the working class Tiburtina area when he asked aides to make a detour to stop at the shantytown he had heard about.
"He got out of the car and people were shocked when they saw him in front of their shacks," said Father Aristide Sana, the pastor of the parish. Sana rushed to the shantytown near his parish when he was told at the last minute.
Television pictures showed the pope surrounded by people Sana said were mostly from Peru and Ecuador. They rushed out of their shacks made of concrete, wood and corrugated metal.
"How many of you here speak Spanish?" he joked in Spanish. "Todos! Todos!" (everybody, everybody)," they shouted.
Sana, whose parishioners bring food and clothing to the shantytown, said people from Russia, Eritrea, Ukraine and Poland also live in the community of some 150 people. Most of the men work as manual day labourers, he said.
The pope, who has made concern for the poor a central plank of his papacy, was known as the "slum bishop" in Buenos Aires because of his frequent visits to the city's shantytowns.