Nearly 50 of the world’s best soccer players, past and present, including Argentine standouts Javier Zanetti and Lionel Messi, and Brazil’s Ronaldinho, will gather in Rome Sept. 1 for an interreligiuos Match for Peace.
Players in the exhibition game, set for 8:45 p.m. Rome time in Olympic Stadium, represent several different religions groups including Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Shinto. The event proposed by Pope Francis—known to love sports, particularly soccer—aims to demonstrate how sports help spread a message of brotherhood, unity and peace.
“When I spoke with Pope Francis about this project, it was a big concern for us to do something for world peace,” Zanetti said in a recent press conference. Proceeds will support the poor in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Among the spectators will be representatives from Varsity Catholic, a division of the Genesee-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). They will attend the match as part of their participation in the International Seminar of the Pontifical Council for Culture and Sport Sept. 1-3.
The seminar calls delegates of national and international Catholic sports associations to the Vatican to discuss pastoral care in the areas of leisure, time, tourism and sports.
“The meetings are very fruitful,” explained Linda Del Rio, global ambassador for FOCUS and executive consultant to Varsity Catholic, who presented at last year’s roundtable as well. “We are all in awe of how God has brought us together through St. John Paul’s vision of the power of the platform of sport.”
Del Rio will be accompanied by two Varsity Catholic missionaries: Ben Domingue, former football player at Louisiana State University now serving at the University of Texas; and Allison McCormick, softball player from Benedictine College now at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“God is truly shining on these two and shouting a call to serve,” said Del Rio, who is hopeful the missionaries will also have an opportunity to present at the seminar.
Varsity Catholic missionaries seek to develop “complete student-athletes” by nurturing their spiritual lives through Bible studies, one-on-one mentoring and other faith-based activities. They have 65 missionaries, all former college athletes, on 43 campuses nationwide.
The group is also expected to be received by Pope Francis during the seminar as well and attend his general audience at St. Peter’s Square Sept. 3.