ROME — Players, singers and sponsors who participated in Pope Francis’ interreligious match for peace have praised him for the idea, stating that it promotes good values important for youth today.
“Soccer is a motivation of example; it’s a marvelous sport [of] which hundreds of millions of young people are aware,” Marco Tronchetti Provera told journalists Sept. 1 during halftime.
“To transmit these values, I believe, is a wonderful initiative that the Pope wanted to happen here in Rome, and we are happy to have been able to help in this initiative.”
Speaking to CNA, Provera stated that the fact that “great players have joined together through soccer to give a message of peace” signifies a desire “to give positive values through soccer to the youth and a bit all over the world.”
The match, he said, is “a great success” because “we have great values; they are values of sport which are giving a living example” to the youth that “is fundamental.”
Provera is chairman of Pirelli & C.S.P.A, the world’s fifth-largest tire manufacturer; the company was one of the largest sponsors for the interreligious match.
Taking place Monday evening at 8:45 local time in Rome’s Olympic Stadium, the match for peace was organized by retired Catholic soccer star Javier “Pupi” Zanetti, who was captain of the Argentine national team and of Inter Milan in Italy.
According to Zanetti, the match was the “explicit wish of Pope Francis” and was done in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences.
Well-known players from all over the world joined together to play in representation of different cultures and religions, including Buddhists, Christians — Catholic and Protestant — Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Shintos.
In an audience match participants had with Pope Francis a few hours prior to the game, Italian singing sensation Nek explained to journalists Sept. 1 that, during the encounter, the Pope “gave a very nice speech in particular against discrimination.”
Discriminating often “means hatred,” he said, “and difference means to hate, and this hate: We cannot allow it in the world today. This is the meaning of this match and of my presence.”
Among those who played during the match was Argentine legend Diego Maradona, who is considered by many experts, soccer critics, former players, current players and fans to be among the best soccer players of all time.
Speaking to journalists ahead of the match, Maradona explained that he likes Pope Francis “because he’s human, because this is really a pope who cares for humanity.”
The Pope, he said, is not someone who puts himself above you, but, rather, “embraces you, goes to the children” and expresses concern over global issues such as hunger.
In a video message played in the stadium shortly before the match began, Pope Francis greeted all players and fans gathered for “this symbolic match.”
“It is a match that highlights the union between the teams, the union between those who participate as spectators and the desire of all for peace: a match in which no one plays just for himself, but for others; or, rather, for all,” the Holy Father observed.
Noting how playing as part of a team allows each member to magnify their talents and become a better person, the Pope stated, “When playing in a team, competition is not war, but is instead the seed of peace,” which “is why the symbol of this match is the olive tree.”
He then thanked the two key foundations assisting in the organization of the match for planting an olive tree before it began and apologized for speaking in Spanish, saying that “it is the language of my heart, and, today, I wanted to speak from the heart.”
The charitable Argentine P.U.P.I. Foundation, alongside the “Scholas Occurentes” initiative, organized the match. Through technology, art and sport, Scholas seeks to promote the social integration of marginalized children and young people.
The name of the P.U.P.I. foundation is taken from the soccer player Zanetti’s nickname, “Pupi,” and is also an acronym for the phrase “Por un piberio integrado,” meaning “For an integrated childhood.”