Pope Francis and a football initiative for peace

On Monday evening, the first Interreligious Match for Peace took place at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico at the request of Pope Francis. For the pontiff, this evening of sport was a symbolic gesture intended to demonstrate that it is possible to promote peace, according to FIFA’s official website.

Around 50 football stars, including the event’s organiser Javier Zanetti, Roberto Baggio and Diego Armando Maradona, enchanted the crowd during this well-attended match in the Italian capital.

FIFA also managed to promote the Handshake for Peace campaign at the event, with both teams participating in the symbolic gesture before and after the game.

Javier Zanetti, who ensured the game became a major charity event on Pope Francis’s behalf, seemed extremely satisfied after the final whistle. “It was a fantastic evening,” he said. “All these wonderful footballers, the crowd and all our many friends in the stands helped to make this interreligious match an unforgettable experience. I’d like to thank everybody sincerely on behalf of my PUPI Foundation, and the Vatican’s Scholas Occurentes foundation. It was just wonderful. Pope Francis wanted to send out a clear signal, and we’ve certainly managed to do that.”

The Pope met the Interreligious Match for Peace’s stars at the Vatican ahead of the game, where the teams were present with their captains Javier Zanetti and Roberto Baggio. “Use this match to say no to all forms of discrimination,” the pontiff urged. “This sport is about joy and celebration, and as footballers you are witnesses to that. Religions are called upon to provide a bond of peace and never one of hate,” Pope Francis emphasised. His Holiness was not in the stadium on the evening itself but sent a video message to the crowd inside the arena.

“It is not true that football can only entertain people,” said Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. “The Pope has invited us to pledge our commitment against any kind of discrimination and violence. Only a match like this can send that kind of message,” he continued. “It was a powerful gesture from the pontiff, particularly with all the violence and war currently going on in the world. This match in Rome can lend a helping hand for peace, integration and respect. It’s also important that we use our play and commitment to show people the meaning of peace and life.”

The PUPI team, coached by Gerardo Martino, emerged from the match as 6-3 winners against Arsene Wenger’s Scholas side. Around 50 current and former international stars joined Javier Zanetti and Roberto Baggio out on the pitch, including Javier Mascherano, Alessandro del Piero, David Trezeguet, Diego Simeone, Ivan Zamorano, Gianluigi Buffon and Diego Lugano.

Juan Iturbe, Roberto Baggio and Roque Santa Cruz scored for Team Scholas, while Andriy Shevchenko’s strike, a hat-trick from Mauro Icardi and another goal from Israeli Tomer Hemed wrapped things up for PUPI.

All proceeds from the event will go to the ‘An Alternative for Life’ project, which works to provide better medical care and education for children and young people in Buenos Aires.

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