Thousands Attend Charity Soccer Match Played at Behest of Pope Francis

Nine Goals, All-Star Players and Festive Atmosphere Mark Interreligious Match for Peace

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Pope Francis, an avid soccer fan, succeeded in bringing together football legends past and present – and of differing religions – to play an Interreligious Match for Peace in Rome last night.

The match, arranged at the behest of the Holy Father, aimed to promote peace and non discrimination.

Thousands of sports fans, young and old, came out to Rome’s Olympic Stadium to watch football greats Roberto Baggio, Javier Zanetti and Diego Armando Maradona, among others, take part in the match.

The players, who represented the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Shinto religions, took to the field shortly before 9pm. The former Argentine striker Maradona kicked off the game, played in good spirits and with a festive atmosphere.

The event was intended to gather players and fans in a moment of unity and solidarity in support of world peace and to demonstrate the power of sport in building peace, according to Vatican Radio.

Zanetti, the retired captain of Argentina’s national soccer team and current vice-president of Milan’s Inter, described the match as “a symbolic gesture to help people understand that it is possible to build a world of peace, based on dialogue and respect for others.”

He said the match was the explicit wish of Pope Francis. Earlier in the day, the 50 former and current professional players who took part in the game were received in an audience with the Pope in the Vatican.

Pope Francis told the athletes that the event was “a highly symbolic gesture to show that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace, where believers of different religions – preserving their identities …can live together in harmony and reciprocal respect.”

The Pope said to “discriminate”  is the same as “contempt”,  and with their game the players were saying “no to all discrimination.”

“Religions,” he added, “are called to be vehicles of peace and never of hatred.”

“Religion and sport,” he concluded, “can collaborate and offer to all of society eloquent signs of this new era in which people ‘will never again raise the sword one against another.”

The exhibition match was co-hosted by the Pupi Foundation, a Buenos Aires-based charity founded by the former Inter Milan midfielder Javier Zanetti, alongside Scholas Occurentes, an educational charity launched by the Pope.

Zanetti captained the PUPI side while Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon took charge of the  SCHOLAS. The match was predictably goal-filled, aimed at entertaining the audience. The final score was 6-3 to the PUPI side.

The proceeds of the match will go to “Un’Alternativa di Vita”, a project that supports poor children in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Speaking to reporters, Maradona said: “Today two powers were brought together, the hand of God and that of the Pope. Pope Francis is much more than Maradona. He is the real outstanding star. … I grew apart from the Church because I thought it wasn’t doing enough for the needy, but with Francis it’s different.”

After meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican before the game, Maradona said he was returning ot the Church.

On meeting the Argentine player and the other footballers just prior to the game, the Holy Father said: “I thank you because you immediately adhered to my desire to see champions and coaches from various countries and different religions facing each other in a sporting match, to demonstrate fraternity and friendship.

“Tonight’s match will certainly be an occasion to collect funds and support, but above all to reflect on the universal values which football and sport in general can promote: loyalty, sharing, welcoming, dialogue, trust in the other. It’s about values which joins every person regardless of race, culture and religious belief.”

The 50 all-star players were:

Andrea Ranocchia, Andrea Pirlo, Colombian midfielder Fredy Guarìn, Spaniards Mikel Arteta and Andrés Palop Cervera, Andrey Shevchenko, Argentine ex-player and current coach Antonio Mohamed, Brazilian Marcos Antonio Senna Da Silva, Chilean Arturo Vidal, Carlos Valderrama, Israelis Yossi Benayoun, Dudu Aouate and Tomer Hemed, Damiano Tommasi, David Trezeguet, Ethiopia captain Degu Debebe Gebreyes, Diego Lugano, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone, Icelandic Emil Hallfreosson, Argentines Mauro Icardi, Ricky Alvarez, goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo, Esteban Cambiasso, Fernando Tissone, Ezequiel Schelotto, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Juan Iturbe, Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano, Maxi Rodríguez, Cristian Ledesma. Also playing were: Yuto Nagatomo, Ivan Zamorano, Ivan Cordoba, Roberto Baggio, Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Muslera, Filippo Inzaghi, Gabriel Heinze, Jose Chamot, Luca Toni, Lucas Podolski, Mesust Ozil, Nicola Legrottaglie, Radja Nainggolan, Ronaldinho, Stefano Mauri, Sulley Muntari and Belozoglu Emre. 

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