Francis has made reaching out to the poor and most marginal the priority of his pontificate. This is only his second visit to an Italian city outside Rome; the first was to the isolated island of Lampedusa, where thousands of migrants come ashore each year.

Francis noted the similarity, saying both islands were places of immense suffering but also hope.

"It's easy to say 'don't lose hope,'" he said. "But to all of you who have work, and to those who don't, let me tell you: Don't let yourselves be robbed of hope."

Later, Francis celebrated Mass in the piazza outside the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Bonaria, the island's patron and namesake of Francis' native Buenos Aires. The pope is particularly devoted to the Madonna and wanted to make a pilgrimage to the shrine.

After Mass, Francis met with the poor and some prisoners in the capital's cathedral, delivered a speech at the island's Catholic university and gave an off-the-cuff pep rally to young Sardinians gathered in a main square before returning to Rome.

He shared a personal detail with the kids, that Saturday had marked the 60th anniversary when he first felt the call to be a priest.

"In all these years that have passed, I've had some successes, joys, but also years of failure, fragility and sin," he said. "Sixty years on the path of the Lord."

In a sign that the exhausting day was starting to take its toll, Francis inadvertently slipped into his native Spanish in his final public remarks in Sardinia, which like many of Italy's regions has its own dialect.

"Hah," he chuckled. "Even I'm speaking dialect here."

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Winfield reported from Rome.

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Follow NicoleWinfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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