Pope Francis met with the soccer players of the Italian and Argentinian national teams early Wednesday to discuss their role in society and religion. Pope Francis is originally from Argentina and is known as a loyal soccer fan. Adding a bit of a personal touch, the Pope also met privately with famed hot-head striker Mario Balotelli.
When speaking to the two teams, Pope Francis emphasized the fact that the players are in the public eye, and thus have a built-in responsibility.
"You, dear players, are very popular: people follow you closely, not only when you are on the pitch but off it as well. This is a social responsibility," he said. Football stars, he added, should be a reference point for good behaviour and give an example of "loyalty, respect and altruism," the Pope said, according to The Guardian.
He went on to stress the importance of keeping sport in perspective.
"It's true that national and international organisations are professionalising sport, and it has to be thus, but this professional aspect must never ignore the initial vocation of a sportsman or a squad: to be an amateur. A sportsman, when he cultivates this amateur aspect, does good to society," Pope Francis told the players.
As to Pope Francis' private meeting with Mario Balotelli, little is known. However a spokesman for the Pope offered some insight into how Balotelli reacted to the meeting, saying the striker looked "emotional" as he left the meeting.
Balotelli has offered no information on the meeting, and in fact has said that what transpired in the meeting will "remain between us."