Below is a Zenit translation of Pope Francis’ address to members of the Spanish Villarreal football club, managers and coaching staff, this morning in the Vatican.The team competes against ‘AS Roma’ tonight in the city’s Olympic Stadium in their second leg of the “Europa League” Championship:
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Dear Friends, good morning. I greet you joyfully, footballers, trainers and managers of the Villarreal team and I thank you for this visit, on the occasion of the game you will play this afternoon. Soccer, as the rest of sports, is an image of life and of society. In the field, you need one another. Each player puts his professionalism and ability for the benefit of a common ideal, which is to play well to win. To achieve this affinity, much training is necessary, but it is also important to invest time and effort in strengthening the team’s spirit, to be able to create that connection of movements: a simple look, a little gesture, an expression communicate so many things in the field. This is possible if one acts with a spirit of fellowship, leaving aside individualism and personal aspirations. If one plays thinking of the good of the group, then it is easier to obtain victory. Instead, when one thinks of oneself and forgets the others, we say, in Argentina, that he is someone who likes to “eat the ball” himself.
Moreover, when you are playing soccer, you are, at the same time, educating and transmitting values. Many people, especially young people, admire and observe you. They want to be like you. Through your professionalism, you are transmitting a way of being to those that follow you, especially the new generations. And this is a responsibility and it should motivate you to give the best of yourselves to exercise those values, which in soccer must be palpable: fellowship, personal effort, beauty of the game, team play.
One of the characteristics of a good athlete is gratitude. If we think of our life, we can bring to mind the memory of the many people that have helped us and without whom we wouldn’t be here. You can recall those with whom you played as a child, your first team companions, trainers, assistants and also the fans who encourage you in every game with their presence. This memory does us good, not to feel superior but to be aware that we are part of a great team, which began to be formed a long time ago. To feel this way helps us grow as people, because our “game” is not only ours, but also of the others, who in some way form part of our lives. And this also strengthens the spirit of the amateur game, which must never be lost; it must be recovered every day, so that it keep that freshness in you, with that greatness of spirit.
I encourage you to continue playing, giving the most beautiful and best of yourselves so that others can enjoy those agreeable moments, that make the day different. I join you, I pray for you, I implore the blessing of the Virgin of Grace and the intercession of Saint Paschal Bailon, Patrons of the city of Villarreal, so that you are supported in life and can be instruments to take to all those that follow and encourage you, and to your friends the joy and peace of God.
It helps me a lot to think of soccer because I like it, and it helps me. But the one I think of most is the goalkeeper. Why? Because he has to catch the ball from wherever it is kicked, he doesn’t know from where it will come. And life is like this. Things must be taken from where they come and as they come. And when I am faced with situations I did not expect, which must be resolved, and came from here when I expected them from there, I think of the goalkeeper, so I keep you very present. Thank you.[Original text: Spanish] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]