Here is a translation of the address Francis gave today when he received in audience the delegations of the national soccer teams of Argentina and Italy, on the occasion of the friendly match that will be played in his honor tomorrow evening in Rome’s Olympic Stadium.
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I thank you for your visit on the occasion of the friendly match between the National Soccer Teams of Italy and Argentina. It will be a bit difficult for me to be a fan, but fortunately, it’s a friendly one … and I hope it’s really so, I urge you!
I thank the directors of the Italian Federation of the Game of Soccer and those of the Argentine Federation. I greet the athletes of the two National Teams.
You, dear players, are very popular: people follow you a lot, not only when you are on the field but when you are off it. This is a social responsibility! I’ll explain myself: In the game, when you are on the field, there is beauty, gratuitousness and comradeship. If a game lacks this it loses strength, even if the team wins. There is no room for individualism but, for the team, everything lies in coordination. Perhaps these three things: beauty, gratuitousness and comradeship are summarized in a sports term that must never be abandoned: “dilettante,” amateur. It’s true that the national and international organization professionalizes the sport, and it must be so, but this professional dimension must never leave aside the initial vocation of a sport or of a team: to be amateur, “dilettante,” does good to society, builds the common good from the values of gratuitousness, comradeship and beauty.
And this leads me to think that, before being champions, you must be men, human persons, with your merits and your defects, with your heart and your ideas, your aspirations and your problems. And then, even if you are personalities, always be men in the sport and in life – men bearers of humanity.
To you, directors, I would to give encouragement in your work. Sport is important, but it must be true sport! Soccer, as some other disciplines, has become big business! Work so that it won’t lose its sports character. You too must promote this attitude of “dilettante” that, moreover, eliminates definitively the danger of discrimination. When the teams follow this path, the stadium is humanly enriched, violence vanishes and families turn to see one another on the steps.
I remember that as children we went as a family to Gasometro, we went as a family, father, mother and children. We returned home happy, of course, especially during the campaign of ’46! Let’s see if one of you dares to make a goal like Pontoni’s, there, no? I greet in a special way the Argentine directors and sportsmen. Thank you for this visit, so pleasant for me. I ask you to live the sport as a gift of God, an opportunity to make your talents fructify, but also a responsibility. Dear players, I would like to remind you especially, that you are a point of reference in life in the way you behave, both on the field as well as outside it. Last Sunday I talked on the telephone with some boys of a group. They wanted to greet me. I chatted with them for about half an hour and, of course, the great topic of those boys was tomorrow’s match. They mentioned several of you and said: “no, I like this one for this reason, this one for that, and this other one for this.” You are an example, you are points of reference. The good you do is impressive. You do good with your conduct, with your game, with your values; people look at you, take advantage of this to sow goodness. Even if you don’t realize it, you are models, for good or evil, for so many people who look at you with admiration. Be conscious of this and give an example of loyalty, respect and altruism. You are also architects of understanding and social peace, architects of understanding and social peace that we so need. You are a reference for so many youths and model of values embodied in life. I’m confident of all the good you can do among youths.
Dear friends, I pray for you, that you will be able to carry forward this very noble vocation of sport. I ask the Lord to bless you and the Virgin Mary to guard you. And, please, I ask you to pray for me, so that I too will be able to play an honest and courageous game, in the “field” in which God has placed me, for the good of us all. Thank you.[Original text: Italian and Spanish] [Translation by ZENIT]