Pope Francis met with soccer players and organizers of today's Interreligious Soccer Match for Peace. The match will take place this evening at Rome's Olympic Stadium.
The Pope thanked the players and highlighted the importance of setting an example for youth.
"People, especially young people, look at you with admiration for your athletic abilities. It is important to set a good example, on the field and off the field.”
The Pope also expressed his hope that this interreligious match would contribute in eradicating all forms of racial, cultural and religious discrimination.
"You all know that to discriminate is synonymous with despising. Discrimination is to despise, and with this match today, you say "no” to all discrimination.”
Pope Francis then greeted all of the players, among them, soccer legend Diego Maradona, who presented the Holy Father with a jersey bearing the Pope's name.
Maradona said that he was moved by the Pope's words, especially now that he has returned to the Church.
"I was very moved after I hugged him. I felt proud to be an Argentinian. And of returning to the Church after being far from it after God took my mother. But today, I am happy to be once again with the Church, with Pope Francis and to play for peace.”
Ukrainian soccer player Andriy Shevchenko also spoke to the Pope, asking him to pray for his country.
"I asked him to pray for my country because we truly need everyone's help. It is truly difficult to speak especially with what is happening in my country. But I hope things will get better. We are here to play this match and to try to give a sign of peace to all.”
The Pope was presented with the award for the soccer match as well as an olive tree that will be planted at the Olympic Stadium. He also posed for group photo with athletes.