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The only pope to (officially) attend a soccer game

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Adriana Bello - published on 12/29/22

The Jubilee of Athletes was a great occasion for the head of the Catholic Church to arrive to a stadium.

Pope Francis is a great fan of soccer and we know that his favorite club is San Lorenzo de Almagro (Argentina). We can only imagine how much he enjoyed Argentina’s victory at the Word Cup. But so far, the only pope who has witnessed a soccer match in a stadium as head of the Church was another soccer lover: St. John Paul II.

It was in October 2000 when Pope Wojtyla went to Rome’s Olympic Stadium to enjoy a match that, on the occasion of the Jubilee of Athletes, pitted the Italian national team against a team of foreign players. Among them were Gabriel Batistuta of Argentina, Cafu of Brazil, Pavel Nedved of the Czech Republic, and Andriy Shevchenko from Ukraine.

John Paul II was a great fan of sports in general. In hundreds of speeches he spoke about their relevance and the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of their practice. Moreover, he himself played soccer when he was young, before dedicating himself to religious life, and it is said that he was an excellent goalkeeper.

One of his former teammates, his friend and Jewish doctor Jerzy Kluger, even said that many times they played Christian vs. Jewish matches. And when the Jewish team did not have enough players, Wojtyla would play with them.

He also blessed the ball used for the opening match of the World Cup in Italy in 1990.

St. John Paul II was a great defender of the virtues that anyone can learn from this sport. He believed that soccer “is an excellent means of promoting the solidarity so greatly needed in a world deeply affected by ethnic and racial tensions” (December 2000, when receiving a FIFA committee) — an idea that he always wanted to convey at major sporting events, from the Olympic Games to the World Cup.

Last month, Pope Francis also shared a very similar message, saying that he hoped that the World Cup in Qatar would “be an occasion for encounter and harmony among nations, fostering fraternity and peace among peoples.”

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Pope FrancisPope John Paul IISports
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