The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis greeted Argentina and Italy’s squads ahead of the footballing giants’ friendly in Rome on Wednesday.
Albiceleste skipper Lionel Messi and Azzurri captain Gianluigi Buffon gave the head of the Catholic Church an olive tree on Tuesday on behalf of the players ahead of the specially arranged match at the Stadio Olimpico.
The Pope, who is an Argentine but has Italian heritage and resides in Vatican City following his inauguration earlier in 2013, advised the two teams to remember their responsibility as idols and put down the notion of football as a business.
“I thank you all for being here. Luckily it’s a friendly, otherwise I wouldn’t know who to support!” he told the squads and gathered press.
“You are popular and the people follow you, but that is a responsibility on your shoulders. Never forget the beauty of camaraderie, from when you were amateurs. Before you are champions, you must be men and bring humanity to everyone you meet.
“To the directors I say that football is sport and not a business. That is the way to discourage violence.
“I pray for you, but I hope you pray for me too so that I can play an honest and generous game of my own.”
Messi, who has been gearing up for the new Liga season with Barcelona in the past month or so, spoke after the meeting and expressed his delight at meeting the religious figurehead.
“It was a special day, I am proud that I was here to meet the Pope, also because he is Argentine,” he told reporters.
“I did not talk a lot with Pope Francis but it was an unforgettable moment. As footballers, we must always give good example in the field – only with respect for opponents can you become men and football players.”