Two Italian prisoners have reportedly escaped while meeting with Pope Francis in Italy.

The inmates took advantage of a lunch event held at the Basilica of San Petronio, in Bologna, on 1 October to sneak out of the church and flee.

Police are still looking for the two fugitives, both of whom are from Naples, Il Resto del Carlino reported.

The two inmates escaped as the chaplain and volunteers were serving lunch to around 20 prisoners and church officials.

The escapees were held at the Modena-based facility Castelfranco Emilia, which helps drug addicts and people deemed a danger to public safety reintegrate into society. It is believed the two belonged to the latter group.

Pope Francis advocates for the rehabiliation of prisoners and he often visits inmates in jails across the world.

In 2015, Cuba said it would pardon more than 3,500 ahead of a papal visit in the country.

Prisoners over 60 or younger than 20 with no previous criminal history and chronically ill women were among those to be released.

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