Pope promotes soccer for peace, harmony and charity

VATICAN CITY — The World Cup trophy has gone to Germany, but the soccer-loving Pope Francis and soccer-crazy Italians are gearing up for an all-star match to highlight sports’ potential to unite people and to raise money to help poor children in Buenos Aires, the pope’s hometown.

The interreligious Match for Peace, organized by Javier Zanetti, an Argentine soccer star and former captain of Italy’s Inter team, is set for Sept. 1 at Rome’s Olympic Stadium.

Javier Zanetti with Pope Francis in April 2013. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

Javier Zanetti with Pope Francis in April 2013. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

The participating players, according to Zanetti, include: Lionel Messi, another Argentine star who plays for Barcelona; Gianluigi Buffon, the Italian national team’s goalkeeper and captain of Juventus; Zinedine Zidane, a Frenchman now coaching for Real Madrid; Roberto Baggio, an Italian soccer hall of fame member; Andrea Pirlo, another Juventus player; Yuto Nagatomo, a Japanese player who is on Italy’s Inter team; and Samuel Eto’o, who was born in Cameroon and played most recently for Chelsea.

Zanetti said he’s been working for more than a year to organize the match. The idea to do it, he said, was born of a conversation he had in April 2013 with Pope Francis.

He said the pope brought up the idea of doing something to “create a moment of brotherhood and unity among people of different religious.”

“Since then we have been working hard to make this event an evening of great soccer and fundraising, but especially a celebration of peoples and an opportunity for common reflection,” he said.

Gianluigi Buffon and Lionel Messi with Pope Francis last August. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

Gianluigi Buffon and Lionel Messi with Pope Francis last August. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

All of the money from ticket sales will go to charity, he said. Through a foundation that Zanetti and his wife started, some of the money will go to a project called “An Alternative for Life,” which helps children in the rougher neighborhoods of Buenos Aires stay in school and do well. Other proceeds from the game will go to the “Scholas Occurrentes,” is a global network of school coordinated by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the suggestion of Pope Francis.

Buffon and Messi helped launch the global network last August after a meeting with the pope.

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    Pope promotes soccer for peace, harmony and charity

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