Catholic Company / Magazine

Pope Francis, the Die-hard Soccer Fan!

Mar 22, 2013 by

The article below is about Argentina's "San Lorenzo de Almagro Football Club" and one of their biggest fans, Pope Francis.  This story was forwarded to us in an email, and we thought we'd share!  We don't sell soccer gear for sports fans, but we do sell Papal gear for Papacy fans!  Be sure to check out our growing selection of Pope Francis gifts.

Football is more than a sport. In Buenos Aires, it's a religion.

There was a time when they played it in the streets. Way back in 1908, a group of boys was kicking a ball through the city when one of them was almost killed by a speeding tram. The local catholic priest, Father Lorenzo Massa, witnessed the incident and cut a deal with the gang: as long as they promised to attend Sunday mass, they could play safely in his church's backyard. They took him up on it, and a year later, the boys established a formal team. In honor of their patron, they wanted to call it "San Lorenzo" but Father Massa humbly rejected the name. The boys then added the name of their neighborhood, "Almagro" and the priest relented.   Thus was born "San Lorenzo de Almagro" Football Club.

San Lorenzo joined the Argentine Football Association and was soon one of the most formidable sides in the country. They rose through the ranks and entered Argentina's Primera Division in 1915. In 1923, they won the Primera Division and captured their first international trophy, the Copa Aldao, beating a team from Montevideo. They became world-famous in the 30's and 40's, and they recruited renowned international players. In 1946, they went to Europe and beat both the Spanish and Portuguese national teams, and were proclaimed the best team in the world. They were known as the Ravens for the black jerseys they wore in honor of Father Massa, but their fans just called them the Saints.

One such fan was a young boy named Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Born in 1936 to a family of Italian immigrants, Jorge would attend Saints games with his father and brothers. Perhaps inspired by Father Massa, he entered the local Jesuit seminary and in 1969 became a priest. He joined the Theological Faculty of San Miguel, where he taught theology. He went to Germany to complete his doctorate and then served as a spiritual director in Cordoba, Spain. He returned to Argentina and rose through the ranks to become Auxiliary Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1992; Coadjutor Bishop in 1997, Primate of Argentina in 1998 and a full Cardinal in 2001. But through all his successes, he never lost his love for San Lorenzo de Almagro or for the team's fans. Even as Cardinal he was known to ride the city bus to San Lorenzo stadium to attend home games. In 2008, on the 100th anniversary of the team's founding, Cardinal Bergoglio was honored by the team, made a member of the club, given a San Almagro membership card complete with photo ID, and presented with a team jersey.

This week, Buenos Aires' football club was thrust back into the international spotlight when its most noteworthy supporter received a major promotion. On March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was selected by the College of Cardinals to be the next Pope. He is the first South American to lead the church, the first non-European pope in over 1200 years, and a die-hard football fan.

To 1.2 billion Catholics, he will henceforth be known as Francis I.  And to supporters of San Lorenzo de Almagro, he's already a Saint.

After Cardinal Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis, the soccer team played with jerseys featuring his photo for their March 16th match.  His Holiness Francis is a fan and an active member of football club San Lorenzo de Almagro, known in Argentina as the “crows” or the “cyclone.” Definitely the nickname is no accident. Crows, one of the ways of referring to San Lorenzo de Almagro, is not because of the bird but is rather the popular way of referring to the priests of the Catholic Church, completely covered with black cassocks. Although it is no longer used, the Buenos Aires club is known as “The Saints”.