World Cup Final Pits Francis Against Benedict in Papal Match

Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

The Vatican is located in central Rome near the Tiber River. Close

The Vatican is located in central Rome near the Tiber River.

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Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

The Vatican is located in central Rome near the Tiber River.

Pope Francis pledged to Brazil President Dilma Rousseff he would remain neutral if his Argentina clinched the final in the World Cup. He will have to keep the promise with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Germany now.

The World Cup final between Argentina and Germany is pitting the sporting allegiances of two living popes for the first time. Argentina-born Francis, 77, formerly Jorge Bergoglio, is known to be a soccer fan, especially of Buenos Aires’s San Lorenzo de Almagro team. He was the first pope elected from Latin America.

Pope Benedict, 87, who retired in February last year in an unprecedented move, is more associated with the image of a studious theologian who helped enforce church doctrine in much of the past 30 years. Benedict, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, was born in the Bavarian city of Marktl.

“Both would want the better team to win,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters today in comments originally reported by the Associated Press. The two popes probably will not meet to watch the match on July 13, though Francis “might watch it,” he said.

Cartoons and photo-shopped pictures of the two popes watching the final went viral on social networks. France’s Le Monde ran a cartoon today with the caption -- “La communion, c’est la foot.” The Dominican Sisters said in a Twitter post July 8 that they were “dreaming” of a World Cup final between Germany and Argentina watched by the two popes together.

Fair Play

“This match is extraordinary for a reason: Ratzinger is the Beckenbauer of the Church, he’s a man who played all his life in his own half of the field, he’s conservative,” said Piero Schiavazzi, a journalist who covers the Vatican. “On the other side, there’s a man, Bergoglio, who has spent all his life in the opponents’ half of the field, he represents the Church which goes beyond its limits.”

Pope Benedict has a “very serious idea of being a fan,” Schiavazzi said. “He used to go to the stadium in Munich to watch Bayern matches when he was archbishop there.”

Before becoming Pope, Ratzinger dedicated some of his theological work to soccer, studying the analogies between faith and fans’ support for their teams.

Before the start of the World Cup, Pope Francis called for the tournament to showcase values of fair play, solidarity and respect for opponents.

Sports Celebration

“My hope is that beyond the celebration of the sport is that this World Cup can turn into a party of solidarity between peoples,” he said in a June 12 video message in Portuguese on Brazilian TV network Rede Globo. He urged the soccer competition “to be considered what deep inside it is: a game and at the same time a chance for dialog and understanding.”

Argentina has won the World Cup twice, while Germany has won three times, the last time in 1990 over Argentina when the tournament was hosted by Italy.

In a June 18 interview with Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, Pope Francis hinted at the pressure he’s facing with Argentina in the final. “The Brazilians have asked that I remain neutral and I comply with my words because Brazil and Argentina are always antagonists.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Chiara Vasarri in Rome at cvasarri@bloomberg.net; Marco Bertacche in Milan at mbertacche@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jerrold Colten at jcolten@bloomberg.net Dan Liefgreen, Vidya Root

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