Athletes Call Interreligious Soccer Match a 'Beautiful' Experience

Echo Pope’s Call for Peace, Halt to Discrimination

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The athletes and other participants in Monday’s first Interreligious Match for Peace say it was a «beautiful» experience that sent a message sorely needed in our times.

Pope Francis, who was the impetus behind the soccer game, met with those involved some hours before the match, in an audience at Paul VI on Monday.

ZENIT spoke with various of the participants following that event.

Muntari Ali Sulley is a Ghanaian midfielder for the Italian club Milan and for his own country’s national team. He is a Muslim who described Monday’s events as a «beautiful experience.»

«Even if I am a Muslim,» he said, «I have been able to come to the Vatican, which is the center of the Christian world, because we all adore one God, before whom we fall to our knees. Because of this, it is beautiful to be together to give a message of peace and because we believe in God.»

The Israeli goalkeeper Dudu Aouate praised «the message of an interreligious game — because as we live in a time of much conflict, we have to show that it is necessary to first look at the person, to look him or her in the eyes, and not to look at if someone is white or black, Jewish, Christian or Muslim.»

The Argentine player Javier Zanetti spoke of his «incredible» happiness because of «all that we have witnessed. We have been with the Pope, who has transmitted to us this sentiment and this desire to be able to bring peace to the world, especially in these times when war is happening.» 

«I hope this can be a beginning point,» he added.

Iván Zamorano, from Chile, described the event as «extremely beautiful and special.»

«As you arrive here, you already feel something special,» he explained. «And to have the opportunity to be here with this family is a blessing.»

Francis’ strength

Eduardo Elsztain is a businessman from Argentina, who echoed the players’ evaluation of the match. «I think any event that is an initiative to bring peace, union among peoples, and has to do with the fight against poverty, is efficacious and very valuable. We support this initiative, and I think that coming here, making this trip, and having a personal interview with Pope Francis was very special.»

He added that «we got to know [Pope Francis] from the many encounters he had with the World Jewish Congress, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, where he had many meetings. We aren’t just participating in this initiative [of the soccer match], but also we wanted to visit a friend. I believe that the Pope is behaving as a leader, he is someone who moves things, and this is a very valuable initiative. That’s why my wife and I came here.»

Elsztain pointed to reasons for hope, despite the many conflicts around the world. «When there is something apparently negative, it has a hidden positive dimension. So, to refuse to suffer defeat means that, when one sees something that seems to not be positive, from that negativity, the positive must be extracted. I think the Pope has this strength.»

Adrián Pallarols, who designed the trophy for the Interreligious Match for Peace, told ZENIT, «We wanted to symbolize Pope Francis’ message, which is not just a call to a sports match. There are people here who have the capacity to start things, and we want to create awareness that this is a call to peace. There are people suffering, families that are broken apart, bombs that kill people. This icon is not that of a sporting event but speaks of peace.»

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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