ROME – Pope Francis paid a call on Italy's president Saturday and encouraged Italians to cling to hope despite economic woes, especially the shortage of permanent work for many in a generation of young people.
Francis' visit to the Quirinal presidential palace was reciprocating a visit in 2015 by President Sergio Mattarella at the Vatican shortly after he was elected Italy's head of state.
Recalling his ancestral roots in Italy, the pope said he has hope for a country where past generations of Italians "carried forward fundamental values: dignity of the person, of the family, work."
Italy has been struggling against unemployment, especially among young people. In much of the underdeveloped south youth unemployment hovers around 50 percent.
With schoolchildren from Italy's quake-stricken central regions also visiting the palace, Francis lamented the "difficulty of young generations to obtain stable and dignified work." That, he said, "fuels an increase in distrust in the future and doesn't favor the birth of new families and children."
Francis had been driven across town from the Vatican in late morning in his simple blue Ford car, right through the city's regular flow of motorbikes, public buses and private cars. He drew waves from surprised tourists on the sidewalks.
He hailed Italy's coordinating efforts to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.
"As far as the vast and complex migratory phenomenon goes, it's clear that (just a) few nations cannot take on the burden entirely by themselves, assuring an orderly integration of the new arrivals in their very social fabric," Francis said. "For that reason, it's indispensable and urgent that a broad and incisive international cooperation is developed."
He was echoing Italy's repeated call for other European nations to do more to aid, host or settle hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and economic migrants rescued from smugglers' unseaworthy boats south of Sicily.