VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis will outline how the Catholic Church should follow the humble example of St Francis of Assisi during an historic visit on Friday to the hometown of the saint whose name he adopted. Some 100,000 pilgrims and over 1,000 journalists are expected to follow the Argentine pope as he visits the sites associated with the mediaeval saint in the hilltown in Umbria in central Italy.
The son of a wealthy cloth merchant, Francesco Bernardone grew up an arrogant and war-mongering young man before his spiritual enlightenment. He famously shed his robes in front of his father in a renunciation of earthly riches and donned a sackcloth to live like and for the poor.
"I want to talk about how the Church should take off its clothes, how in some way the Church should repeat the gesture of St Francis," the bishop of Assisi, Domenico Sorrentino, quoted the pope as telling him ahead of the historic visit.
Francis, who has called for a "poor Church for the poor", has said he wants to overhaul the 2,000-year-old institution, making it less "Vatican-centric" and closer to ordinary people.
One of his proposals was to use abandoned monasteries and convents to house refugees and there are rumours that he could announce the abandonment of archaic clerical titles.
Francis has set up a new council of eight cardinals from around the world to advise him in an unprecedented experiment to make Church government more "horizontal" and less hierarchical.
The eight held their first closed-door meetings with the pope this week in which the Vatican said they discussed how to "refresh" the Church and they will accompany him during his visit to Assisi.
The visit is due to begin at 0600 GMT and wrap up at 1700 GMT Friday, with the pope expected to meet groups of poor, sick and handicapped people who are being looked after by Catholic orders or charities. Logistics and security are expected to be complicated but the pope's bodyguards have said they have already had to adapt because of his constant desire to engage with his followers.