Pope Francis received the FC Bayern Munich sports club in a private meeting Wednesday, in which he congratulated them for having “played a wonderful game” against Roma the night before, handing the Italian team a 7-1 rout.
The team gave Pope Francis a signed soccer ball and jersey — complete with “Franziskus” and the number 1 across the back. The Pope then presented each member of the delegation with a small crucifix on a chain.
CEO Karl Heinz Rummenigge told the Pope that the German club would donate one million euros for Pope Francis to use “to help people in need wherever they are in the world and regardless of their faith.”
Francis admitted his “surprise” at the victory margin over Roma, and also told the team he had been in Mexico to see Rummenigge play in the 1986 World Cup final.
“It was inspiring for us all,” Munich player Philipp Lahm said after the audience, “we’re delighted we had the chance to experience this.” Another player, David Alaba, said he was “unbelievably impressed” and spoke of “one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Francis is himself a great soccer aficionado, and for years has rooted faithfully for his home team of San Lorenzo de Almagro in Buenos Aires.
Last May, on the eve of the World Cup, Pope Francis had a similar meeting with Italian soccer players, in which he reminded them of their “great responsibility” to give a positive example.
“You are at the center of the attention,” the Pope said, “and so many of your fans are young or very young. Keep that in mind, remembering that your way of behaving affects others, for better or for worse.”
Francis believes in the importance of sports for society and for the education of the young. “Sport,” he has said, “has a strong educational value for the growth of the person: personal growth, in the harmony of body and spirit, and social growth in solidarity, loyalty and respect.”
“Let’s hope that soccer always serves to develop this potential!” he said.
Last month Pope Francis met with other soccer players, including the Argentine legend Diego Maradona, just prior to their “interreligious match for peace” at Rome’s Olympic stadium.
After a long embrace, Maradona exclaimed: “I am so excited to have hugged the Pope, to feel like a true Argentinian, and to have come back to the Church after having been away for so long.”