Pope Francis met with a delegation from the National Football League in the Vatican Wednesday, joking that where he comes from, football is played “very differently.”
“As many of you know, I am an avid follower of ‘football,’” Francis quipped, “but where I come from, the game is played very differently!” in reference to “fútbol,” the Spanish name for soccer.
The pontiff suggested that the principles that make for truly great athletes are virtues that society as a whole needs desperately.
“Teamwork, fair play and the pursuit of personal excellence are the values – in the religious sense, we can say virtues – that have guided your own commitment on the field,” the Pope told the delegation, which included Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 5.
Jones was joined by six previous Hall inductees, including Curtis Martin, Ronnie Lott and Franco Harris, in his meeting with the Pope.
“Yet these same values are urgently needed off the field, on all levels of our life as a community,” Francis said.
The teamwork necessary for winning at football is just as important for building up society, he said.
These three virtues, in fact, are what help “build a culture of encounter,” he added, “in which we anticipate and meet the needs of our brothers and sisters, and combat the exaggerated individualism, indifference and injustice that hold us back from living as one human family.”
“How greatly our world needs this culture of encounter!” he said.
The Pope often meets with athletes of different sorts, and has constantly praised the hard work, discipline and teamwork that make for great sports.
Earlier this year, Francis became the first pope in history to bless the Super Bowl, sending a video message with his benediction to participants and viewers of the sporting event.
“May the Super Bowl this year be a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity to the world,” Francis said in his native Spanish, in a video message released on Super Bowl Sunday.
“Major sporting events like the Super Bowl are highly symbolic and show that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace,” the Pope said in his message. “Taking part in sports activities makes us go beyond self-interest and in a healthy way to learn the meaning of sacrifice and grow in respect and respect for the rules.”
In his meeting with the NFL delegation Wednesday, the Pope offered his prayers that their visit to Rome might “increase your gratitude for the many gifts you have received and inspire you to share them ever more generously in shaping a more fraternal world.”
He also invoked “God’s blessings of joy and peace” on the delegation, as well as their families.
“What a magnificent thing for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and to have him recognize pro football,” Jones said after the meeting. “When I think of the millions who know our spiritual leader, it is very special to think that we had his audience on behalf of the game.”
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