MILAN Pope Francis showed the common touch during a trip to Italy's business capital on Saturday, visiting the homes of working-class families, including a Muslim one, and using an outdoor portable toilet.
Instead of making his entry into the northern city via its grand centre, site of a gothic cathedral, top fashion labels and the famed La Scala opera house, he started his one-day visit at a bleak public housing project on the outskirts.
He stopped at three small apartments, one of them home to Mihoual Abdel Karim, a Muslim immigrant from Morocco who lives there with his wife and three children.
"It was very emotional. It was like having a friend in the house," said Karim, who works at a pharmaceutical factory and whose wife wears the veil.
They offered him a snack of sweets, nuts, dates and milk.
Since his election in 2013, the former bishop of Buenos Aires has made reaching out to the downtrodden a hallmark of his papacy, renouncing many of the perks associated with his role as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
He has shunned the spacious papal apartments in the Vatican in favour of a small suite in a guest house, is driven in a simple car rather than a limousine and has never used the luxurious lakeside papal summer residence south of Rome.
Francis then dropped in on an elderly Italian couple in their 80s, both of whom have major health problems.
Residents of the 10-story complex built in the 1970s say elevators often break down and that drug dealing and petty crime are growing problems. The area was dotted with abandoned cars until recently, when it was cleaned up for the papal visit.
Before addressing residents of the neighbourhood who had gathered in an open space, Francis startled some onlookers by walking without hesitation into a portable toilet stall that had been put there for use by the crowd.
Father Antonio Spadaro, who has interviewed the pope several times and written books about him, tweeted a picture of the 80-year-old pontiff emerging from the red-and-white plastic stall.
"Pope Francis ... in Milan, uses a chemical toilet like ordinary people," he tweeted.
Francis later addressed priests and nuns in the cathedral and then had lunch with some 100 prisoners at the city's San Vittore jail.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Crispian Balmer)