Pope visits his first parish on Rome outskirts

Pope Francis on Sunday visited a Rome parish for the first time, choosing a church on the outskirts of the city following his call for clergymen to take God's message to the "fringes" of society.

Church bells rang out in the northern Rome suburb of Prima Porta as the pope was greeted by hundreds of cheering faithful who waved handkerchiefs in the white-and-yellow colours of the Vatican.

"The pope is in the Vatican, I am here as the bishop of Rome," Francis told the congregation at an open-air mass outside the Church of Saints Elizabeth and Zachary in the working-class area.

"You understand reality not from the centre but from the outskirts," the Argentine pope said at the service, before speaking to 16 local children who were taking communion for the first time.

At the end of the mass, the pope bowed deeply as children sang a Franciscan blessing for him.

The local priest, Father Benoni Ambarus, said the choice of his church was appropriate.

"It was natural for this parish to receive the first visit from a pope who has spoken of the need to go into the outskirts," Ambarus said.

The pope, the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years and the first-ever Latin American to lead the world's Catholics, was elected in March and has struck a different tone from his more reserved predecessor, Benedict XVI.