At the end of the General Audience this Wednesday, August 30, 2017, Pope Francis greeted the players and staff of the Chapecoense Club, the Brazilian soccer team that on November 28, 2016, lost most of its members in a plane crash near the Colombian city of Medellin, reported Vatican Radio.
Three players of the club – defender Neto, 24-year-old keeper Jackson Follmann and defender Alan Ruschel – survived that disaster.
The Pope blessed Jackson Follmann, one of whose legs was amputated after the tragedy, and Alan Ruschel, who were present during the Audience.
“We should have died that day, at the moment of our last prayers, pronounced in a loud voice while the plane was falling,” said the players, in words reported by L’Osservatore Romano in Italian. God gave us a second chance and we’ll do our best to honor Him. And of course to honor also our friends who are no longer.”
In the course of the meeting, “brief but moving,” the Pope greeted and embraced all the members of the team, as well as members of the families of the deceased. He was given the present of a ball with the colors of the Brazilian team, white and green, as well as a T-shirt with the players’ signatures.
The Pastor of the Cathedral of Chapeco, Father François Cristiano Cousseau, gave the Pope a representation of Saint Anthony, Patron of the city, distributing bread to the poor. A memory-photo of the Pope with the group, made up of some 85 persons, was taken.
“It’s a day of grace for all of us,” said Plinio David de Nes Jr, President of the Chapecoense. “Pope Francis made us feel his love since the tragic moment of the plane accident. At the most difficult moment of our life, his closeness gave us the strength to go on. Today the team is recovering slowly from its wounds. Today we received the Pope’s blessings and we thank God for that.”
On Friday evening, September 1, 2017, Chapecoense will play a friendly match with the Roma team at the Olympic Stadium under the patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
After the air crash in Colombia, which left 71 dead, Pope Francis sent his condolences and assured his prayers in a Message addressed to Cardinal Sergio Da Rocha, Archbishop of Brasilia, Brazil. The Pope wished “the courage and consolation of Christian hope “to all those touched by this “tragedy.”
The Brazilian footballers were going to Medellin for the final of the “South American Cup,” competition of Latin American Clubs. The plane of the Bolivian Lamia Company was transporting the team’s players and journalists.
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester