· The captain of Inter Javier Zanetti recalls his audience on Thursday afternoon ·
So Pope Francis roots for Inter now? The captain Javier Zanetti of the Nerazzuri hesitated for a moment but then answered the question elegantly and diplomatically. “No, the Pope”, he said, “roots for a better world. And he believes that each one of us, even in sports, can lend a hand in building it”. What is certain is that Bergoglio is a passionate football fan. He supported San Lorenzo de Almagro, the football team of the Boedo neighborhood in Buenos Aires, when his father used to bring him to the stadium. The glorious year of 1946 remains in his memory. The club upset River Plate and the Boca Juniors, who had won ten titles in 12 years, when René Pontoni scored to win the championship. “Not by chance”, Zanetti said, after his long and cordial meeting with the Pope on Thursday afternoon, 25 April, “I also greeted him on behalf of my teammate Iván Córdoba who, before wearing the Nerazzura jersey, played for San Lorenzo from 1998 to 2000.
The Inter captain did not only speak about football with Pope Francis. “I told him”, he recounted to our newspaper, “about the initiatives that we are organizing for Argentine children at the PUPI Foundation and other projects which Inter Campus continues to promote around the world using football as an educational tool.
Established in 2001 by Zanetti himself and his wife Paula, the PUPI Foundation — an acronym for Por un pibério integrado (“pibério” means colts) but it is also the Nerazzurro captain's football nickname — aids thousands of materially and physically disadvantaged children, young people, mothers and fathers.
Located in Lanús, south of Buenos Aires, the foundation promotes various initiatives involving health, nutrition, education and social justice. Work which is near to Pope Francis' heart. The Holy Father, admiring the Christian witness of the footballer, showed particular interest in his work and encouraged him. “He underlined”, Zanetti said, “that it is possible to improve the world especially when he work together. It is is not simple but we can do it. And we, in our own small way, are trying”.
In an cordial atmosphere, the Pontiff spent about an hour in the Santa Marta Residence with the Inter footballer and his wife and three children: Sol, 7, Ignacio, 4, and Tomas, 11 months. “He just learned to walk”, Zanetti said, smiling, “and during our meeting he did nothing but go from one end of the room to the other. So much so that in the end the Pope put his hand on his little head almost as if he wanted to stop him!”.
“I am very pleased”, he said, “to have had the possibility to fulfil my dream. And I feel honoured to have the Pope as a 'fellow countryman'. I was able to experience first-hand that Bergoglio is a very open, humble and simple person. But what struck me most was his trust in the possibility of building a better world. And this for me and my family, and for our foundation is a vote of confidence”.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 28, 2020
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