Argentina’s pope goes for the Saints in soccer
He could have chosen the Devils. Instead he turned to the
In a country where a blurry line separates religion from
football, or soccer as Americans know the sport, it’s only
appropriate that the first Argentine pope is a fan of team partly
founded by and named for a priest.
The man who became Pope Francis on Wednesday, Jorge Mario
Bergoglio, has long followed the Saints of San Lorenzo, one of five
most traditional teams in the Argentine Football Association. One
of its rivals, appropriately, is the Red Devils team of
It would be close to heresy for an Argentine to shun the sport.
This is the country that glories in Diego Maradona’s ”hand of
God” goal in the 1986 World Cup against England, a victory that
led Argentines to boast that ”God is Argentine.”
And Francis is certainly orthodox, in the sporting sense at
Bergoglio grew up in Buenos Aires’ Flores neighborhood, not far
from the San Lorenzo stadium, and like his father, he formed a bond
with the team. That continued as he rose up the Roman Catholic
hierarchy to become archbishop of Argentina’s capital.
He’s even a member of the association that owns the club, and
was presented with a team jersey after saying Mass in the team
chapel – it’s the kind of club that has a chapel – in May 2011. San
Lorenzo is known to fans as the Cyclone, the Saints or the Crows,
the latter an allusion to the black vestments worn by its
News that Bergoglio had been elected pope elated the team.
”It’s a pride for the institution to know that the first South
American pope is a member of San Lorenzo,” the club said in a news
”In truth, I can’t believe it. My veins are running with a
sensation very hard to describe, but very beautiful at the same
time,” said midfielder Angel Correa in comments published by the
The team got its start with a group of youths who played
football in the streets of Buenos Aires in 1907, according to its
A priest, Lorenzo Massa, watched from his church as they played
along a streetcar line and came out to warn them against the
dangers. Massa offered to let them use the church grounds instead,
and even made a set of goalposts.
In return, according to the club, he insisted they study the
catechism and go to Mass each Sunday, a requirement that seems to
have lapsed over the years.
When the team formally became a club in 1908, it adopted the
name San Lorenzo in honor of the priest.
One of the team’s historic stars, Alberto Acosta told Fox Sports
Del Plata that he had once given one of his jerseys to the
archbishop. ”After I retired, Bergoglio told me that because I was
going, we wouldn’t score goals on anybody.”
San Lorenzo has won 10 professional championships in Argentina’s
first division, though the forces of the Devil have been a bit more
successful over the years, winning 14. San Lorenzo won the last
meeting in February, 2-1.
San Lorenzo stumbled to a 12th place finish last season and it’s
the only one of Argentina’s big five teams that has never won the
Copa Libertadores, South America’s most important club
For San Lorenzo fan Daniel Gonzalez, the news from Rome eases
that pain: ”This new pope is a fan of San Lorenzo and that is
worth five Copas Libertadores!”
But even pride at the Argentine pope can’t overcome the rivalry
among the country’s soccer clubs.
Lucas Roldan, a 22-year-old fan of Boca Juniors, said during a
break from teaching mathematics as a volunteer in a Buenos Aires
slum on Thursday that he is happy that a compatriot is now leading
the global church, but added a barb: ”I’m with Boca and he’s for
San Lorenzo. I imagine this is the first international trophy
Associated Press Writer Luis Andres Henao contributed to this