Pope and Maradona meet before international Soccer Match for Peace

(Photo: REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi)Former soccer star Diego Maradona (L) hugs Pope Francis during a special audience held before a special interreligious "Match for Peace", at the Paul VI hall at the Vatican September 1, 2014. Current and former soccer stars representing various religious faiths participated in the "Match for Peace", which was held in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Pope Francis has organized an Interreligious Soccer Match for Peace with an array of stars that took place at Rome's Olympic Stadium.

Around 50 former and current professional players took part in the game and ceremony being received by the Pope in the Vatican on Monday before the match.

"Tonight is an opportunity to raise funds for charity projects, but especially to reflect on the values that sport and football can promote values that are common to every person, regardless of religious belief and its culture.

"Say no to discrimination," said Francis to a crowd of some 400 people.

Pope Francis' team lost six goals to three but organizers said the Monday evening match was a success.

Among the football stars were former Argentine player and coach, Diego Maradona, who met the Pope ahead of the inter-religious charity match and compatriot and former Argetine captain Javier Zanetti who plays for Inter Milan, reported the Daily Mail.

South American stars Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho were also in the line-up.

Former Ukrainian player Andriy Shevchenko and current Cameroon and Everton player, Samuel Eto'o were there along with Roma midfielder, Radja Nainggolan and Colombia's Carlos Valderrama.

Other players linked to participate included Roberto Baggio, Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Paolo Maldini and Zinedine Zidane.

The idea for the match came in April 2013 following a conversation between former Argentine captain Zanetti and Francis.

Former Al Ahly player Mohamed Abou-Treika turned down the Pope's invitation because of "Zionist" participation, refusing to play alongside the Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun, The Tablet reported.


Maradona presented Francis, who is a soccer fan, an Argentine shirt.

"Tonight's sporting event is a highly symbolic gesture to show that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace, where believers of different religions – preserving their identities ...can live together in harmony and reciprocal respect."

The Pope noted, "Religions are called to be vehicles of peace and never of hatred.

'Religion and sport can collaborate and offer to all of society eloquent signs of this new era in which people 'will never again raise the sword one against another."

Proceeds from the match will go to Scholas Occurrentes, an educational institution that promotes social integration and to P.U.P.I., a non-profit long-distance adoption charity which helps disadvantaged young people.

In a video message for Brazil's World Cup Soccer championship earlier this year, Pope Francis said "Soccer can and should be a school that promotes a 'culture of encounter' - one that leads to harmony and peace between peoples."

The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture, together with international Catholic sports associations, organized a two day seminar to coincide with Monday's big game – to reflect on the theme: "Sport at the Service of Humanity."

Organizers want the debate to focus on sports as a means of encounter and dialogue rather than on it as a lucrative business for a lucky few and a place for winner-takes-all competitiveness.

One of the objectives of the seminar is preparing for the international Vatican Global Conference on Sport and Faith to be held in the Vatican in September next year.

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