Pope Tells Football Players: ‘You Are a Role Model for Better or For Worse'

By Terence P. Jeffrey | August 22, 2013 | 5:33pm EDT

Pope Francis holds an audience at the Vatican on Aug. 13, 2013 with the national football teams of Italy and Argentina. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Pope Francis met last week with the national football teams of Italy and his native Argentina before they played a match in Rome, telling the players of his admiration for their game and reminding them “you are a role model for better or for worse.”

“Take advantage of this to sow goodness,” he said.

The pope also reminisced about his own childhood, when he attended games in Buenos Aires played by his favorite team, San Lorenzo. He specifically alluded to the 1946 season, when San Lorenzo, led by its star, Rene Pontoni, won a championship.

“I remember that as children we went as a family to Gasómetro Stadium, father, mother and kids,” said the pope.

“We of course returned home happy, especially during the championship of 1946!” he said. “Who knows if one of you will score a goal like Pontoni? What do you say? I greet in a special way the Argentine directors and players! Thank you for the visit, so special for me. I ask you all to live sport as a gift from God, an opportunity to make good use of your talents but this is also a responsibility.”

“You, dear players, are very popular: People follow you very closely and not only on the field but also off it,” he said. “This is a social responsibility! Let me explain: during the game, when you are out on the pitch, you display beauty, generosity and camaraderie. If a match lacks these qualities it looses force, even if the team wins. There is no room for individualism; team coordination is paramount. Perhaps these three qualities: beauty, generosity and camaraderie can be summed up in a sports term that we must not forget: ‘amateur,’ enthusiast.

“It is true that national and international organizations professionalize sport, and it should be this way,” said the pope. “But this professional dimension must never push aside the initial vocation of an athlete or team: be amateurs. When an athlete, even a professional one, cultivates this dimension of being an ‘amateur,’ society benefits and that person strengthens the common good with the values of generosity, camaraderie and beauty.”

“Sports are important but they must be true sports!” said the pope. “Football, like some other disciplines, has become big business! Work to prevent it losing its character as a sport.”

“I ask you all to live sport as a gift from God, an opportunity to make good use of your talents but this is also a responsibility,” he said. “Dear players, I would like especially to call to mind that with your conduct, both on and off the pitch, in life you are a point of reference.”

“You are an example, a reference point. The good you do is impressive,” he said. “With your conduct, the way you play, your values, you do good [for] people [who] watch you. Take advantage of this to sow goodness. Even if you do not realize it, for many people who watch you with admiration, you are a role model for better or for worse. Be aware of this and be an example of loyalty, respect and altruism. You are also builders of concord and social peace of which are all in such great need. You are a point of reference for many young people and a living model of real values. I have faith in all the good that you can do among boys and girls.”

The pope concluded his talk by asking the players to pray for his game, too.

“Please pray for me so that, I too, on the ‘pitch’ on which God has placed me, may play an honest and courageous game for the good of all.”

The day after Pope Francis held his audience with the football players, Argentina defeated Italy 2 to 1 at Rome's Olympic stadium.

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