Pope Francis meets with legendary German soccer team

Pope Francis meets with legendary German soccer team

Pope Francis meets with legendary German soccer team

Pope Francis receives a signed shirt from the German soccer team Borussia Mönchengladbach. (Credit: Borussia Mönchengladbach.)

The Vatican soccer team has played three friendlies against Borussia Mönchengladbach’s team of retired players, the Weisweiler Elf, and a fourth fixture is due to take place in the middle of October. On Wednesday, Pope Francis thanked the German soccer team for their "friendship" with the Vatican.

Players and staff from one of Germany’s top soccer clubs met with Pope Francis on Wednesday in a private audience before the general audience.

Borussia Mönchengladbach — which finished ninth last year in Germany’s top division, the Bundesliga — has developed a relationship with the Vatican employees’ sports association, and often participates in activities organized by the Vatican in Rome.

The Vatican team has played three friendlies against Mönchengladbach’s team of retired players, the Weisweiler Elf, and a fourth fixture is due to take place in the middle of October.

“We have developed a very good relationship with Vatican and their representatives,” said team vice president Rainer Bonhof. The meeting with the pope comes just one day after the club celebrated its 117th anniversary, having been founded on August 1, 1900.

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Francis expressed his gratitude “for the relationship of friendship” the club has created, especially with the Vatican.

Using the team’s nickname, “Die Fohlenelf” [The Foal’s Eleven], Francis said they were “a pro-family team.”

“It’s wonderful to see how families are filling your Borussia Park, and how various sports, educational programs, and initiatives are being held to promote young people, especially those who are disadvantaged,” Francis said, urging them to be “athletes of goodness and peace, which the world needs so much today.”

Team captain Lars Stindl said it was a “great honor” when he introduced the team to the pope, and later said it was a “special moment.”

Ibrahima Traoré, the French-born Guinean international, tweeted a picture of himself meeting Francis, saying “He is the pope and i am muslim! We are human #respect”.

Francis is an avid sports fan, and a longtime member of Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro, a soccer team based in the Boedo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital.

He has met representatives of different sports teams throughout his pontificate.

Since 2014, the pontiff has endorsed a “Match for Peace,” annually bringing together soccer stars from across the world to play an exhibition game in Rome.

In October 2016, the Vatican hosted the first Global Conference on Sport and Faith, sponsored by Sport at the Service of Humanity, the United Nations, and the International Olympic Committee.

Borussia Mönchengladbach is set to begin its next Bundesliga campaign on August 20, when they play 1. FC Köln. They have one more pre-season game, taking on former English Premier League champions Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on August 4.

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