Despite the fact that Pope Francis hasn’t watched TV since July 15, 1990, he does know how his national team is doing in the World Cup, perhaps evidence that soccer remains his favorite sport, which he used to enjoy as a child with his father.
“We’ll see how Argentina does,” Francis reportedly told Bolivian President Evo Morales on Saturday morning, after the Latin American leader asked the pontiff “How’s the World Cup coming?”
This was the sixth time the two met since the election of history’s first pope from the Global south, and their encounter lasted 36 minutes.
As Morales noted during the short dialogue the two had in the presence of journalists, before their private meeting, four of the five South American countries playing soccer’s most important tournament made it to the round of 16: Francis’s Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia. The only country that didn’t qualify is Peru.
Mexico too made it through to the next round, but the president chose to exclude that nation by speaking of South America and not Latin America.
Argentina will face France on Saturday, and Uruguay will do the same with Portugal, also on Saturday. If the two win, they will face each other in the quarterfinals.
Francis’s love for soccer has been widely documented with tidbits including the fact that he was a paying member of San Lorenzo, one of Argentina’s largest teams, and that in Buenos Aires, he had in his office a piece of wood from the bleachers of his team’s old stadium.
Though the Vatican has remained tight-lipped over how the pope is being updated, a senior Vatican official told Crux last week that “We can be pretty sure he knows what’s going on.”
In the previous World Cup, held in Brazil in 2014, then papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Crux that even though Francis wasn’t watching the games, many occurring past his usual bedtime, he was informed of the results by one of the members of the Swiss Guards, his small personal army, early the next morning.
Beyond his love for the game, Francis sees soccer as an ice-breaker and yet another element of a Church that goes out to encounter the faithful where they are.
Despite being an avid soccer fan, Francis is not one to watch the games himself, because in 1990 he made a promise to the Virgin not to watch TV. In an interview with an Argentine newspaper La Voz del Pueblo, the pontiff said that he made the promise to Our Lady of Carmen on the night of July 15, 1990, simply because TV “is not for me.”
Asked about which player of the Argentine team he prefers, Lionel Messi or Javier Mascherano, Francis said “I wouldn’t know what to say because I cannot distinguish the style of the two, because I don’t watch soccer. Messi came here twice, but that’s it, I’ve never seen him play.”