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The Pope Who Loved Soccer


In this March 24, 2011 image released by the San Lorenzo de Almagro soccer team on March 13, 2013, Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio holds up a small flag of the San Lorenzo soccer team in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In this March 24, 2011 image released by the San Lorenzo de Almagro soccer team on March 13, 2013, Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio holds up a small flag of the San Lorenzo soccer team in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Pope Francis roots for the Saints, not the Devils.

The Saints of San Lorenzo de Almagro, that is — one of Argentina’s top five soccer teams.

The first Latin American pontiff grew up near the team’s stadium in Flores, a middle class neighborhood in Buenos Aires.

This screen shot image released by the San Lorenzo de Almagro soccer team shows a copy of the club's identification card belonging to Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

This screen shot image released by the San Lorenzo de Almagro soccer team shows a copy of the club's identification card belonging to Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

The new pope is a card-carrying member of the team’s club and has his own Saints jersey, presented to him in 2011 after he said Mass at the team’s own chapel.

Another religious man, Father Lorenzo Massa, founded the club in 1908, according to the team’s website. A year before, the priest warned a group of boys playing soccer in the street that they could get hurt and offered the church grounds as a field. In return, he asked the boys to attend Mass each Sunday.

Midfielder Angel Correa is elated his team has a connection, spiritual or otherwise, with the new pope.

“I can’t believe it. My veins are running with a sensation very hard to describe, but very beautiful at the same time,” he said in comments on the team’s website.

Soccer is almost a religion in Argentina. The country’s national team is third in FIFA’s world rankings, the result of hard work and a lot of fans’ prayers.

The intersection of soccer and religion in the form of Pope Francis, formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is a blessing, according to San Lorenzo loyalists.

Alejandro Maccio, the club’s top official, told the New York Times he hopes the pope’s connection to the team will “help more kids play soccer and get off the street.”

“He has been a great fan for many years, and we hope this will help us,” he told a journalist for the newspaper at the club's stadium this week.

The Saints will need that help when they battle the Red Devils of Independiente on the field later this year.

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