Pope given San Lorenzo’s trophy after victory

Pope Francis celebrated his beloved San Lorenzo’s victory in the

Argentine soccer championship Wednesday, congratulating team

members, reminiscing about going to the stadium as a child and

hoisting up the team’s trophy in St. Peter’s Square for all to

see.

Club members gave Francis the trophy and the glove goalie

Sebastian Torrico used to block the ball in the final minute of

Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Velez Sarsfield, securing the title for the

opening half of the Argentine first-division season.

Referencing another big moment in Argentine soccer history –

Diego Maradona’s ”Hand of God” goal against England in the 1986

World Cup – club vice president Marcelo Tinelli said Francis

performed a ”miracle” on Sunday: ”For us, it was the hand of

God, the hand of the pope,” he joked.

Both the glove and trophy will remain at the Vatican, a belated

birthday gift to Francis, who turned 77 this week.

The former Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a lifelong fan of the Saints

of San Lorenzo, and has been a member (ID No. 88235) since

2008.

The team draws its name from a priest, Lorenzo Massa, who

offered to let a group of youths use church grounds to play in

instead of the streets of Buenos Aires in the early 1900s.

Bergoglio grew up in the Flores neighborhood of the Argentine

capital near the stadium and formed a bond with the team.

On Wednesday, he reminisced about going to the stadium with his

father as a boy during a 30-minute meeting with the club at his

Vatican hotel. Team members gave him a photo of his childhood hero,

Rene Pontoni, who played for San Lorenzo when it won the national

title in 1946.

The pope gave the team players and managers an image of the

Madonna which they said they would keep in the stadium.

Originally Tinelli, the club vice president, had announced that

the team would give Francis a replica of the championship trophy,

but he and other officials said Wednesday that they gave him the

original and that it would remain in Rome.

Like many Latin American countries, Argentina divides its season

into two halves and crowns champions for each one.

Later, at the end of Francis’ Wednesday general audience, the

delegation went up to the pope on the steps of St. Peter’s and

formally presented him with the trophy and a red and blue team

jersey with ”Francisco Campeon” – Francis Champion – written on

the back. A clearly pleased Francis raised the trophy.

Wednesday was Francis’ last general audience for 2013, and the

Vatican took the opportunity to release statistics about his

pontificate, revealing that the Vatican had issued twice as many

tickets for his general audiences than it had for Pope Benedict XVI

in the first year of his pontificate.

The Vatican said 1,548,500 tickets had been distributed over the

course of the 30 general audiences Francis has held since his March

13 election. The actual number of people who attended is far

higher, since anyone can go to an audience and the Vatican now

shuts down the main boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square to

accommodate the throngs each Wednesday.

Unlike his predecessors, Francis has chosen not to move his

audiences indoors once the weather turned cold, to better

accommodate the masses.

For comparison’s sake, 810,000 tickets were distributed in

Benedict XVI’s first year in 2005, during which he held 32

audiences after his April 19 election. At the end of 2005, the

Vatican said 2.85 million people had participated in Benedict’s

public events those first eight months of his pontificate, which

included all his Masses, audiences, Sunday blessings and World

Youth Day events in Cologne, Germany.

The Vatican didn’t release such complete statistics on Wednesday

for Francis. The Holy See is on record, though, as reporting that

Francis drew 3.7 million people on a single day to his concluding

World Youth Day Mass in Rio de Janeiro in July, though

statisticians put the actual figure at less than half that.

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield