Last Wednesday the Argentinian cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became the Catholic Church’s first Latin American pope and the first non-European to hold the position since the founding of the Papal States in the eighth century. The new pontiff has taken the name of Francis in honour of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the poor, who was known for the simple and austere life he led.
In a letter personally addressed to the new pope, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter congratulated him on his election, writing: “May I offer you my warmest and most sincere congratulations on your election as the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, which is a source of universal happiness and joy.”
As the world digested the news of Bergoglio’s election, there was one aspect of his life that rapidly became public knowledge: his passion for football, in particular for San Lorenzo de Almagro, one of the biggest clubs in Argentina.
Naturally enough, Blatter made a point of referring to this in his letter. “The world of football is delighted by your appointment, as we have learned that Your Holiness is a passionate follower of our sport and of a club nicknamed ‘The Holy Team’ no less,” he wrote affectionately. “Your Holiness, your election could not have been more appropriate.”
Though Bergoglio inherited his father’s love for the Buenos Aires outfit before devoting his life to the church, the affection he feels for San Lorenzo is but another way for him to express his faith. Founded in 1908, the club is named after the Salesian priest Lorenzo Mazza, who allowed a group of children to play football in the grounds of his chapel, thus protecting them from the dangers of playing on the streets of the modest suburb of Almagro.
“You take to Rome and the world the testament of a Catholicism without limits, and whose presence in society is markedly spiritual and pastoral in character,” added Blatter. “Without wishing to put faith in God on the same level as faith in football, both share common values. Like faith, football can build bridges, bring joy and hope and, above all, unite people cross the world.”
The FIFA President concluded his letter by writing: “I would like to offer you my warmest and most sincere greetings and those of the entire football world. I wish you every strength and the protection of the Lord. I also wish for Him to protect us a little too perhaps, and our sport and supporters, regardless of the colour of the jersey. We need it.”
A few days after sending his message of congratulations, Blatter received a reply from the Pope's office, thanking he and FIFA for the gesture. The FIFA President was both touched and honoured to have received this direct reply from the Pope.