This morning Pope Francis met with members of the Italian and Argentinian national soccer teams. They are in Rome for a friendly match that has been organized for Wednesday night in honor of Pope Francis.
Speaking in both Italian and Spanish, the Holy Father expressed his hope that the match would truly be a friendly one. He reminded the players that they are role models and encouraged them to take that responsibility seriously.
He asked them to foster the beauty, generosity, and camaraderie that sport can produce – and called for even professional athletes to recover the ideals of being an amateur, of recovering the initial vocation of the athlete.
Pope Francis also warned about letting sport become simply a big business. He called on managers to “do your work in such a way that the sporting character will not be lost.”
Turning to Spanish, the Pope spoke about his memories of going to soccer matches with his family as a young boy in Buenos Aires – and spoke fondly about his memories of the Gasómetro Stadium in Buenos Aires, and the winning season of 1946. He called on players to “live your sport as a gift from God, an opportunity not only to improve your talents, but also a responsibility.”
And he returned to the idea that athletes are examples and role models, encouraging them to set an example of loyalty, respect, and selflessness.
He said: “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.”
Pope Francis ended his remarks by praying that the athletes will continue to be able to pursue the “noble vocation” of sport – and he asked them to pray for him, too, “that on the playing field that the Lord has placed me, I can play the game honestly and courageously, for the good of all.”
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Full text of Pope’s address: