Pope Francis is set to meet next week with WBC middleweight boxing champion and fellow Argentinean Sergio Martinez, when the two will discuss anti-bullying and domestic violence against women.
"In the past couple of months, I will have had two of my dreams as a Catholic come true, to visit the Basilica of our Lady Guadalupe in Mexico and to be received by the Pope," 38-year-old Martinez said. "I will be asking the Pope for blessings and spiritual protection to all of those who enter the ring."
Muhammad Ali's meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1982 was the last time a professional boxer had met a pontiff for a private conversation, USA Today noted, and Martinez has made his excitement ahead of the meeting known.
His promoter, Lou DiBella, added:
"In his short time as leader of the Catholic Church, this gentle Pope from Argentina has already changed the dialogue of his people. I am thrilled that Sergio will be able to discuss his campaigns against bullying and domestic violence."
Martinez, who won the WBC title on September 15, 2012, will present Francis with a special edition green belt. The two will also spend some time talking about the campaigns the boxing champion supports, including one to help bullied children and one to help battered women.
"With domestic violence, no one wanted to touch the subject with a 10-foot pole," Martinez has said. "I was interested in the issue that a boxer, who dishes out violence, could also be thoughtful and do something and people would listen to someone like me. I thought I could have the most impact by speaking out on the issue."
He has also personally reached out to children being bullied in school, helping them get through the tough times, a reminder of his own rough upbringing as a victim of bullying in a rural village in Argentina.
"Sergio's passion to help out people in need and who are down on their luck has truly exemplified the fact that you do not need to act brash or lack any tact in order for people to respect you in the boxing world," said Nathan Lewkowicz, the vice president of Sampson boxing, which manages Martinez's career.
Francis meanwhile met with New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan earlier this week, who revealed that the pope is still in tears over the tragedy off the Italian island of Lampedusa last week in which hundreds of African migrants lost their lives in a shipwreck.
"We spoke to him about immigration for instance, and thanked him for his heroic visit to Lampedusa and then of course…that almost led to him crying over the current tragedy. He told us by the way, and I hadn't heard this: he said, by the way, I've sent my 'elemosiner' – the papal almoner – in other words, the man who gives out the charity (donations) of the Pope. He'd sent him as his personal delegate to Lampedusa to be with the families and to try to help the survivors and see that this tragedy would never reoccur," Dolan said of his meeting with the Roman Catholic leader.