Sunday’s World Cup championship game pits Pope Francis’ native Argentina against retired Pope Benedict’s native Germany. The Catholic Church has witnessed pope/anti-pope feuds. But it has never experienced two popes watching the soccer teams of their homelands battle it out for World Cup supremacy.
World Cup 2014 plays as a first for the Vatican for another reason. In a strictly technical sense, none of the previous 264 Popes had ever experienced the nation of their birth winning the World Cup. The World Cup was obviously not around for the first 258 Popes, from St. Peter to Benedict XV. Italy was not around upon Pope Pius XI’s birth. Pope Pius XI was born in the Austrian Empire shortly before the creation of the Italian nation-state. But Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti’s birthplace lies in modern Italy and he identified as an Italian. Uruguay hosted and won the first World Cup in 1930 while Pius XI served as pope. The Italians won the next two World Cups during Pius XI’s papacy before World War II interrupted the event.
Italy did not win the World Cup again until shortly after Pope John Paul II of Poland broke the string of Italian Popes. The Polish team has never been a competitor.
While always contending, the Germans did not win either of the World Cups while German-born Benedict XVI served as Pope. But in the first World Cup since he took the unusual step of retiring, Germany qualified for the championship with a shocking 7-1 blowout over Brazil on Tuesday.
Pope Francis had to wait a day to find out that the Argentine team would compete in the finals against Germany, the homeland of his predecessor. The two play Sunday afternoon for the title.
|Pope#||Name||Became Pope||Born in||World Cup Winners|
|266||Francis||2013||Argentina||Argentina or Germany|
|265||Benedict XVI||2005||Germany||Italy, Spain|
|264||St John Paul II||1978||Poland||Italy, Argentina, Germany, Brazil, France, Brazil|
|263||John Paul I||1978||Italy||None|
|262||Ven. Paul VI||1963||Italy||England, Brazil, W. Germany, Argentina|
|261||St John XXIII||1958||Italy||Brazil|
|260||Pius XII||1939||Italy||Uruguay, W. Germany, Brazil|
|259||Pius XI||1922||Austrian Empire||Uruguay, Italy, Italy|