Pope Francis has traveled to southern Italy to honor a wildly popular Italian saint, Padre Pio.

Francis took a helicopter from the Vatican early Saturday morning to visit Pietrelcina, the town of the Capuchin monk's origins. The half-day's visit main event was expected to be an outdoor Mass in the shrine town of San Giovanni Rotondo in southeastern Puglia, the annual destination of millions of pilgrims.

Padre Pio was made a saint in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, who himself, while still a simple priest, journeyed to Puglia from Poland to be confessed by him.

Francis said Pio loved the church and its "sinner children."

Pio was accused by detractors of being a fraud. The monk' palms had bled inexplicably for decades like the wounds of crucified Jesus.