Pope Francis, an Argentine national who is the first non-European to lead the Catholic church in more than 1,200 years, will receive members of his favorite soccer team tomorrow on his birthday after the club won the local league title.
A six-person delegation of players and managers from San Lorenzo de Almagro, the fifth largest in terms of fans in Argentina, boarded a private jet today in Buenos Aires to travel to Rome after ending a six-year title drought yesterday. The delegation will deliver the trophy to its most famous fan, Pope Francis, who turns 77 tomorrow. Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that he said “what joy,” when he heard of the result.
San Lorenzo, which was founded by a priest in 1908, won the Argentine national championship after tying 0-0 with Velez. Pope Francis, a paying club member since March 12, 2008, asked the club to win the trophy after being elected pope. Club vice president Marcelo Tinelli, a well-known TV presenter in Argentina, will make his second visit to the pope.
“When Marcelo visited the pope a few months ago, Francis asked him to win the championship,” San Lorenzo manager Bernardo Romeo said in comments on CN23 from the city airport. “We’re going to offer him the trophy as he is the world’s most powerful man, we’re proud and excited for the trip.”
A spokesman for the Vatican said by telephone that the meeting may take place Dec. 18 due to scheduling conflicts.
In stark contrast with his predecessor, since being named pontiff in March, Pope Francis has ordered an investigation into the Vatican bank, called on governments to focus more on the world’s poor, said the church shouldn’t obsess over gay marriage and abortion, washed the feet of jail inmates and has broken protocol to plunge into crowds to shake hands with followers.
Francis has worked to portray himself as a man of the people, shirking the traditional robes, jewelry and even papal apartment for more spartan trappings. After he was selected as pope, Francis called his newspaper vendor to cancel his subscription.
The title will give San Lorenzo the right to play the Copa Libertadores, Latin America’s version of the Champions League played in Europe. San Lorenzo has never won that title which has prompted other clubs to say the team has more popes than Libertadores trophies.
Oscar winning actor Viggo Mortensen, who lived in Argentina during his childhood, is the second most popular fan of San Lorenzo.
Thousands of fans poured into the streets of San Lorenzo’s traditional Boedo neighborhood in Buenos Aires last night to celebrate the victory with cheers, team chants, fireworks, honking car horns and yells of “Bravo, San Lorenzo!”
Pope Francis was born in the Flores neighborhood of Buenos Aires, about 20 blocks from where the club plays its home games.
“The fact that we could win the title and present it to the pope on his birthday seems like a gift from God,” Tinelli said from the airport before leaving.
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