(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 29.11.2023).- Before the General Audience on Wednesday, November 29, Pope Francis received in audience the players, and technical and managerial staff of the Celtic Football Club of Glasgow, Scotland. The soccer team was in Rome for a game the night before with Lazio’s local team.
The Holy Father began by apologizing for his state of health. “I’m sorry, with this cold I can’t speak much, but I feel better than yesterday. Thank you for the visit. What I wished to say to you, Father will say.” Then a priest read what the Pope had prepared:
I am pleased to welcome you here to the Vatican, during your stay in Rome following your UEFA Champions League match with Lazio yesterday evening.
While it is true that winning rather than losing a match is always preferred, it is not the most important aspect! More vital is the example you give when winning or losing, both on and off the field. An example that embodies the virtues of courage, perseverance, generosity and respect for the God-given dignity of others. Indeed, Celtic Football Club was founded in 1887 with the specific goal of alleviating poverty in the City of Glasgow. This was truly a charitable undertaking for the sake of the most needy of our brothers and sisters. Yet, how much the world of football has changed since then. In particular, the financial footprint of the “Beautiful Game” has greatly increased, and at times can risk making football only attractive for reasons of monetary profit.
The valued legacy of your Club, then, places a heavy responsibility upon your shoulders, reminding you to be good role-models, especially for young people. The standards you are called to set concern not only your abilities as sportsmen and the classic qualities required to excel, but are also about your personal integrity. In this regard, men and women should see in you not just fine footballers but also people of kindness, big-hearted men who know how to be wise stewards of the many benefits you receive from your privileged positions within society.
With these brief remarks, I pray that you will continue to remember and bear witness to everything that makes sport genuinely good and noble. May Almighty God bless each of you and your families. I wish you a safe journey home to Scotland, and ask you, please, to pray for me!
The Holy Father still wanted to say a few more words on his own; hence, speaking spontaneously he said:
I wanted to say something to you. Perhaps the most beautiful thing in sports is gratitude, that beauty of playing together. Please, never lose amateurism! This is lovely: amateurism, where sport is for sport’s sake. This means a lot. I thank you for it. If we win or don’t win, it doesn’t matter. The whole world fights to win, but victory isn’t the objective, that could be a defeat: victory is to play together, to play as a team. Keep amateurism. That’s the most beautiful of sport. Thank you for this visit.
Pope Francis greeted the players one by one and, before taking his leave, he said to them jokingly Iin allusion to whisky): “It caught my attention that you have in your land a very important specialty, a special “milk” . . . a little, okay!”