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Pope Francis fields Vatican soccer team in friendly match against Roma minority

Pope Francis holds a soccer ball in St. Peter’s Square during the Wednesday general audience on Aug. 26, 2015. L’Osservatore Romano. / null

Vatican City, Nov 11, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will field a soccer team from the Vatican in a friendly match against a team of Roma people later this month.

The soccer match, which is intended to counter racism and discrimination, will be played on Nov. 21, in the town of Formello, 45 minutes north of Italy’s capital.

The match will also raise funds for a Roma inclusion project organized by the Diocese of Rome.

The pope’s team has been named “Fratelli Tutti,” after his 2020 encyclical, and includes members of the Swiss Guard, Vatican employees and their children, priests working in the Roman Curia, three young immigrants, and a young man with Down syndrome.

The team of the Roma (or Romani) minority has been assembled by the World Roma Organization, which has its headquarters in Zagreb, Croatia, and runs inclusive sporting events with special attention to minorities and people with disabilities.

The day before the match, Nov. 20, Pope Francis will meet both teams at the Vatican.

According to recent estimates by police, just over 4,000 Romani people live in Italy’s capital city, in both authorized and illegal camps. This is a 35-40% decrease from 2017, the police said, adding that this shows that attempts to integrate the ethnic minority into wider Italian society are working.

The Nov. 21 soccer match, organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture, is an initiative of Pope Francis, who has often emphasized the benefits of sports for enriching people’s lives.

In a Feb. 19 meeting with an Italian soccer team, the pope said that “sports, and also soccer, are a path of life, of maturity, and of holiness.”

Pope Francis also met with impoverished Roma people when he visited a ghetto during his trip to Slovakia in September.

During the Sept. 14 meeting, he told the Roma people that the Catholic Church is their home and they should never “worry about whether you will be at home there.”

“Nobody ought ever to keep you or anyone else away from the Church,” the pope emphasized.

The gathering took place in the Luník IX district of the Slovakian city of Košice, where an estimated 7,500 Roma people live in buildings built to hold just 2,500.

In his address, Pope Francis said: “Dear brothers and sisters, all too often you have been the object of prejudice and harsh judgments, discriminatory stereotypes, defamatory words and gestures. As a result, we are all poorer, poorer in humanity.”

“Restoring dignity means passing from prejudice to dialogue, from introspection to integration,” he continued, explaining that this can be carried out through concern, pastoral care, patience, and concrete efforts.”

“All these things will bear fruit,” he underlined. “Not immediately, but in due time those fruits will be seen.”


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