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.