Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Celtic 'honoured' following private audience with Pope Francis at Vatican following Champions League defeat

Pope Francis contrasted Celtic Football Club's origin story as a force for alleviating poverty with the money washing through the modern game during a Vatican meeting with team manager Brendan Rodgers and several players.

The Pontiff made time for the Celtic delegation despite concerns over his health which have forced him to scale back many engagements.

During the private audience Francis made light of his health struggles by telling the gathering he had a cold but was feeling better than the previous day.

He was presented by Carnlough-born Mr Rodgers with a Celtic jersey with 'Francis' on the back.

Pope Francis, stressing the club's founding as a vehicle to alleviate poverty in Glasgow, noted the changes since as the "financial footprint" of the game "has greatly increased".

In a statement on social media, Celtic FC said: "Today at the Vatican....staff and players were honoured to be granted an audience with his Holy Father, Pope Francis."

The audience followed the team's Champions League defeat at the hands of Lazio in Rome on Tuesday evening.

Pope Francis referenced the founding of Celtic FC "with the specific goal of alleviating poverty in the city of Glasgow", adding it was a "truly a charitable undertaking for the sake of the most needy of our brothers and sisters".  

Celtic was founded in 1887 by Marist Brother Walfrid, born Andrew Kerins in Sligo, as a way of helping the poorest Irish immigrants in the city, particularly children.

"Yet, how much the world of football has changed since then.  In particular, the financial footprint of the 'Beautiful Game' has greatly increased, and at times can risk making football only attractive for reasons of monetary profit," the Pontiff said.

"The valued legacy of your club, then, places a heavy responsibility upon your shoulders, reminding you to be good role-models, especially for young people.

"The standards you are called to set concern not only your abilities as sportsmen and the classic qualities required to excel, but are also about your personal integrity. 

"In this regard, men and women should see in you not just fine footballers but also people of kindness, big-hearted men who know how to be wise stewards of the many benefits you receive from your privileged positions within society."

The Celtic delegation, fresh from a defeat ending the club's run in Europe, were reminded: "While it is true that winning rather than losing a match is always preferred, it is not the most important aspect.

"More vital is the example you give when winning or losing, both on and off the field. An example that embodies the virtues of courage, perseverance, generosity and respect for the God-given dignity of others."

The Pope added impromptu remarks, asking the manager and players to excuse him for a cold that did not allow him to speak too much but "I am better than yesterday"

"I wanted to say one thing to you. In sport, the most beautiful thing is gratuitousness, that beauty of playing together. Please, never lose the amateur spirit," he said.

"This is the beautiful thing: the amateur spirit, where sport is for sport. This means a great deal. 

"Everyone struggles to win, but victory is not the goal, that can be defeat: victory is the entire process of playing together, playing as a team. Maintain the amateur spirit. That is the most beautiful thing about sport."

He added a final piece of advice, noting the "important your land", a special "milk", which it was agreed was Scottish whisky. 

"A little is fine," the Pope said.