IMAGE: Pope Francis holds weekly audience at the Vatican. Photograph: Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
Pope Francis remembers soccer legend and fellow Argentine Diego Maradona with affection and is keeping him in his prayers, the Vatican said on Wednesday, and official Holy See media called him “soccer’s poet”.
Maradona, who died on Wednesday at his home in Argentina following a heart attack, met the pope several times at the Vatican after Francis was elected in 2013 as Latin America’s first pope.
“The pope was informed about the death of Diego Maradona, he recalls the times he met him in these past years with affection, and he is remembering him in his prayers, as he did in the past days when he was informed about his condition,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
Francis is a lifelong fan of the Buenos Aires San Lorenzo soccer team.
The official Vatican News website ran a story of Maradona’s death on its front page with a headline calling him “soccer’s poet”.
It called Maradona “an extraordinary player but a fragile man,” a reference to his struggle with drugs.
Maradona travelled to Rome several times to take part in several benefit games called “Matches for Peace,” whose proceeds went to a papal charity for education in developing countries and for victims of the 2016 earthquake in central Italy.
On one occasion Maradona gave the pope a signed jersey with a dedication that read in Spanish: “To Pope Francis, with all my affection and (wishes for) much peace in the world.”
Before one match he told Vatican Radio: “I think we all feel something in our hearts when we see wars, when we see the dead. I think this match will put to rest the notion that we soccer players don’t do anything for peace ... a soccer ball is worth more than 100 rifles.”