Why Pope Francis loves football
Pope Francis joined in the mass hysteria surrounding the FIFA World Cup in a video message broadcast on Brazilian television ahead of last night's opening match between the host country and Croatia, which ended 3-1 at the final whistle.
The Pope is said to be a football fan himself – and an avid supporter of the Saints of San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires where he previously served as Archbishop. He shared in his message the importance of demonstrating good values, and highlighted the capacity of football to promote solidarity between different groups.
According to the Catholic News Agency, Francis labelled football, "A game and at the same time an opportunity for dialogue, understanding and reciprocal human enrichment".
"[It] is not only a form of entertainment, but also – and above all I would say – a tool to communicate values, promote the good of the human person and help build a more peaceful and fraternal society," he continued.
"Sport is a school of peace. It teaches us to build peace."
He underlined teamwork as a key tenant of the game, and suggested that this is a good practice to carry into the rest of life – "by playing sports, we can see a metaphor of our lives," he declared.
"To play in a team, it is necessary to consider first the good of the group, not on one's self. In order to win, it is necessary to overcome individualism, selfishness and all forms of racism, intolerance and instrumentalisation of the human person.
"The secret of victory in the field, but also in life, is to learn to respect the colleagues of your team, but also your opponent," he shared.
"No one wins alone, neither in the field nor in life! Let no one feel excluded or isolated!"
The Pontiff concluded his message with a prayer that "complete serenity and tranquillity" would pervade the World Cup, and that "mutual respect, solidarity and brotherhood among men and women who recognize themselves as members of the same family," would be evident.
Argentina's football team in particular are likely to have taken the Pope's word to heart, after travelling to Rio with a giant photograph taken when they met Francis – himself an Argentinean native - in August last year.
Argentinean news service Diario Castellanos reports that the sportsmen are hoping that by bringing the image – which will reside at the Cidade do Galo training complex for the duration of the Cup - with them, it will "give a message of hope" while they compete in Brazil.