A fan of Argentina holds a photo of Pope Francis while on his knees as he watches the World Cup match between Argentina and Switzerland inside the FIFA Fan Fest area in Sao Paulo on July 1. Argentina beat Switzerland 1-0 in extra time to move on to the World Cup quarterfinals.
(AP photo/Nelson Antoine)
This fun look-back with lots of photos and soccer-related quotes about faith and life drew the attention of a number of readers. Relevant Radio and Spirit Catholic Radio both invited me on the air to talk about the Holy Father and the World Cup.
2014 World Cup standings:
The Argentine national team takes on the Netherlands this afternoon at 4 p.m. ET for the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo. Argentina’s fans are praying for the big win. They took home the World Cup championship in 1978 and 1986.
The devastating July 8 loss for Brazil against Germany took away the possibility of a final show down between Brazil and Argentina.
The Argentine team captain is soccer (fútbol) superstar Lionel Andrés Messi, a devout Catholic, who plays forward. He met Pope Francis last year when the Argentine and Italian teams gathered for an audience at the Clementine Hall of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on August 13, 2013. They were in Rome to participate in a friendly exhibition match the next evening in honor of the Holy Father, fútbol’s biggest fan.
Pope Francis receives a gift from Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, and Argentina’s Lionel Messi at the Vatican.
Pope Francis reminded the Argentine and Italian players that they are to take seriously their place as role models for their fans, especially the youth, calling on them to foster the game’s “beauty, generosity, and camaraderie.”
Though injury prevented Messi from playing in that 2013 game, he told reporters after the papal audience that “the best way for the players to respond to what the Pope said was to give fans a clean and exciting game, and to live upright lives.”
“Without a doubt, today was one of the most special days of my life. We have to excel on and off the field.”
Did you know that Lionel Messi played for a number of years for Spain and led the Spanish club Barcelona to victory at the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup Finals in Japan, defeating the Neymar-led Brazilian club Santos 4–0?
“Pray for me that in the playing field that the Lord has placed me, I can play the game honestly and courageously, for the good of all.”
— Pope Francis on August 13, 2013
What you need to know about Pope Francis and soccer:
1. Pope Francis, like most Argentinians, traces his love of soccer (fútbol) back to his earliest childhood days. In Argentina, fútbol and faith go hand in hand. Watch carefully and you see both the players and the fans praying before and throughout the games.
2. Pope Francis’ childhood soccer hero was René Pontoni (1920-1983), who played for San Lorenzo in 1946 when they won the national title.
3. The Holy Father’s home team is the San Lorenzo football club of the Bajo Flores section of Buenos Aires. He is a huge fan. The team’s wins and losses were a frequent topic of discussion with commuters during his bus ride to work as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Pope Francis has spoken fondly in the past of his childhood memories of going to games with his father and watching them play in Buenos Aires at the Gasómetro Stadium.
San Lorenzo de Almagro home stadium.
4. Formally known as Club Atletico San Lorenzo de Almagro, this local fútbol club was founded by Padre Lorenzo Bartolome Massa in 1908 who allowed young people to play on church property instead of in the streets.
Padre Lorenzo Massa
5. Pope Francis is a card-carrying member of the San Lorenzo Club, having paid his dues annually since 2008, even renewing them last year after his election as pope. Member (ID No. 88235) since 2008.
6. The San Lorenzo team proudly displayed “Papa Francisco” badges on their jerseys for the game against Colon, which happened right after his election to the papacy.
San Lorenzo’s Denis Stracqualursi with team jersey featuring Papa Francisco.
7. Papal fútbol miracle?
The San Lorenzo team won that game which was scoreless for the first 73 minutes, until Colon striker Ruben Ramirez put a deflected San Lorenzo corner kick into his own net to give the San Lorenzo team a 1-0 win.
Fútbol miracle? The opponent scores a goal for the new Holy Father’s team?
The San Lorenzo fans, of course, credited the prayerful pull of their biggest advocate, Papa Francisco.
Check out this video of that goal…
8. You too can follow the San Lorenzo team:
The prize trophy was presented to the Holy Father by San Lorenzo soccer team’s President Matias Lammens (right) and deputy-president Marcelo Tinelli in December after the team won the Argentine championship. Pope Francis then held high the trophy of his favorite team. The meeting happened after his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 18
Pope Francis holds up a soccer jersey that reads “Francisco Campeon” (Francis Champion), another gift from his favorite soccer team San Lorenzo, which won the Argentine championship last December.
(CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
In return, Pope Francis gave the team players and managers an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary which they said they would keep in the stadium.
9. Argentina’s good luck charm
Larger-than-life photo that the Argentinian national soccer team brought with them to the World Cup games in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
(Photo via CNA/Twitter/@InfoRafaela)
This enormous photo is from the August 2013 meeting of the national team with the Holy Father, taken the day before Argentina beat Italy in a friendly match. According to the news publication Diario Castellanos, the hope is that this photo will “give a message of hope prior to the beginning of the World Cup.”
10. Who is the patron saint of soccer?
As I mentioned earlier, you can see the players and the fans visibly praying both before and throughout the game.
Pope Saint John Paul II is frequently called upon for intercession by fútbol fans as he too loved the game all his life. Canonized by Pope Francis in April, John Paul II usually was the goalkeeper whenever he played back in his hometown of Wadowice, Poland. During his papacy, he often highlighted the importance of sports.
“Live your sport as a gift from God, an opportunity not only to improve your talents, but also a responsibility… I have confidence in all the good you can do, especially among young people.”
–Pope Francis, August, 2013
Argentine fans hold a photo of Pope Francis between soccer legends Lionel Messi, left, and Diego Maradona before the July 1 World Cup match between Argentina and Switzerland at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo. Argentina won the match and advances to p lay Belgium July 5.
(CNS photo/Emilio Lavandeira Jr., EPA)