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Pope visits once-persecuted evangelicals at Waldensian church on trip to Turin, northern Italy

  • Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the youths, in Turin, Italy, Sunday, June 21, 2015. Pope Francis earlier prayed in front of the Holy Shroud, the 14 foot-long linen revered by some as the burial cloth of Jesus, on display at the Cathedral of Turin. (AP Photo/Massimo Pinca)

    Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the youths, in Turin, Italy, Sunday, June 21, 2015. Pope Francis earlier prayed in front of the Holy Shroud, the 14 foot-long linen revered by some as the burial cloth of Jesus, on display at the Cathedral of Turin. (AP Photo/Massimo Pinca)  (The Associated Press)

  • Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the youths, in Turin, Italy, Sunday, June 21, 2015. Pope Francis earlier prayed in front of the Holy Shroud, the 14 foot-long linen revered by some as the burial cloth of Jesus, on display at the Cathedral of Turin. (AP Photo/Massimo Pinca)

    Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the youths, in Turin, Italy, Sunday, June 21, 2015. Pope Francis earlier prayed in front of the Holy Shroud, the 14 foot-long linen revered by some as the burial cloth of Jesus, on display at the Cathedral of Turin. (AP Photo/Massimo Pinca)  (The Associated Press)

  • Pope Francis shakes hands with Eugenio Bernardini, the Moderator of the Waldensian Church, during the first ever visit of a pope to the Waldensian evangelical church, in Turin, northern Italy, Monday, June 22, 2015. Pope Francis asked forgiveness Monday for the Catholic Church's persecution of members of this small evangelical church in Italy whose leader was excommunicated and followers branded as heretics during the Middle Ages.  (L' Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

    Pope Francis shakes hands with Eugenio Bernardini, the Moderator of the Waldensian Church, during the first ever visit of a pope to the Waldensian evangelical church, in Turin, northern Italy, Monday, June 22, 2015. Pope Francis asked forgiveness Monday for the Catholic Church's persecution of members of this small evangelical church in Italy whose leader was excommunicated and followers branded as heretics during the Middle Ages. (L' Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)  (The Associated Press)

Pope Francis has become the first pope to visit a Waldensian evangelical church, whose members were persecuted by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.

Francis entered the Waldensian temple in Turin on Monday on the second day of his visit to the land of his ancestors in northern Italy.

The Waldensian church was founded in the 12th century by Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant from Lyon, France, who gave up his belongings to preach a Gospel of simplicity and poverty that condemned papal excesses. He was excommunicated and his followers persecuted by Rome.

The Waldensians today claim 45,000 followers, mostly in Italy, Argentina and Uruguay.

The Argentine Jesuit has continued his strong friendships with leaders of Protestant and evangelical churches that he developed as the archbishop of Buenos Aires.