Sports Stars Federer, LaFontaine, Pele to Join Pope Francis in Historic Vatican Meeting

Pope Francis plays with a basketball during the Italian Catholic Sports Centre (CSI) 70th anniversary celebrations, on June 7, 2014, in St Peter's Square, at the Vatican. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI

Pope Francis has invited sports stars from around the world to the Vatican for the first global conference on faith and athletics this October.

Among the 150 athletes and sports executives attending the three-day event will be Pat LaFontaine, Pele, Roger Federer, and Yao Ming.

The conference, titled “Sport at the Service of Humanity,” aims to bring together leaders from different religious faiths, sports, business, academia, and media to “to discuss how faith and sport can work together to promote positive values, inspire youth and better serve humanity.”

The meeting also intends to explore the interconnectedness of faith and sport and their relevance for the modern world.

The pope will kick off the Oct. 5-7 event together with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee.

Francis, no stranger to the sports world, has often received players, coaches, and managers during his three-year papacy. A big fan of soccer, the pope is a card-carrying member of the San Lorenzo Club from Buenos Aires, and has continued to renew his annual membership even as pope.

Pat LaFontaine, the former captain and president of the Buffalo Sabres, said it is “a tremendous honor” to attend the event as part of a small delegation representing the NHL.

“I’m excited to be a part of this summit and conference that they’re having at the Vatican on sports and faith and service for humanity. I think it’s going to be a tremendous opportunity to sit down with all different faiths and delegations from different sports and talk about the impact that sports has and faith has,” he said.

He noted, “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

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