By Anita Bourdin

Informed of the death of Argentine soccer champion Diego Armando Maradona, Pope Francis thought back with affection to the occasions of meeting him in recent years and he is remembering him in prayer, as he has done over the last days, on learning of his state of health,” said on Wednesday evening, at about 9:00 pm November 25, 2020, Matteo Bruni, Director of the Holy See Press Office. Maradona said at one point: “I’m Francis’ first fan.”

Diego Armando Maradona died at 60, on November 25 in his home in a Buenos Aires suburb. He had met with his illustrious compatriot Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014 and in 2015, as attested by a Vatican Media video in 2014.

Commitment for  Peace

“The Pope and the Champion,” headlined L’Osservatore Romano on September 5, 2014, to illustrate the new meeting between Pope Francis and Diego Armando Maradona. “I was waiting for you,” the Pope said to him.

The Holy Father met with Maradona and other players the previous September 1 in Paul VI Hall. After this audience, with the players and organizers of an inter-religious match for peace, which took place the same evening in Rome’s Olympic Stadium, the Pontiff spent some 15 minutes with the Argentine footballer at Saint Martha’s.

At the end of the meeting, the athlete introduced the Pope to a group of Argentines who accompanied him. Pope Francis then signed some players’ jerseys, as seen on the video, and he gave each one a Rosary.

At the Olympic Stadium, although not in great physical form, Maradona played for 90 minutes of the match.

On Vatican Radio, he launched a message of peace. “I think we all have something in our hearts when we see war, when we see death . . . We should put many things aside and seek peace. I think that this match breaks somewhat the idea that the players don’t do anything for peace: it’s the contrary!” What we want is for people to understand that the best thing for everyone is peace.”

He expressed his conviction of the efficacy of sport to promote peace. “It’s essential! It’s essential! I think that a ball is worth more than 100 arms. It’s very clear to me! Sport is what makes you think that you will not do harm to others.”

Commitment against Hunger

 Diego Maradona greeted Pope Francis again on April 23, 2015. It was a private meeting in Saint Martha’s residence. “I wanted to thank Francis for all the love he gives me,” he then said during a press conference at Vatican Radio, in the framework of the presentation of a new project of Scholas Occurrentes, the Foundation for the education of young people.

Jose Maria del Corral, the project’s initiator, and Maradona announced that the second match for peace would be held in Rome’s Olympic Stadium in October 2015.

The “Golden Kid” confided his enthusiasm for Pope Francis. “We have a very good Pope, fantastic, I would say (. . . ) I’m Francis’ first fan,” he added.

And he explained that he had the occasion to talk about many things, about Scholas, about children’s hunger, hoping that the players would unite and do something once for all for these boys who, in numerous regions of the world, have nothing to eat.”

The Holy Father also telephoned Maradona in 2016, on the occasion of a new match for peace,” organized by Scholas Occurrentes, which would also contribute to support the populations that were victims of the earthquake that struck the center of Italy. “When I was told that we would also play for the people affected by the earthquake, I thought that we couldn’t miss such an initiative. We’ll do something great; we’ll collect funds to feed the children, to proclaim our message of peace, and to give Pope Francis a big applause,” he said.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester

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