Vatican City, Aug 25, 2014 / 19:03 pm
A priest and close friend of Pope Francis says the pontiff's idea for an upcoming inter-religious soccer match for peace shows his keen interest in promoting the topic on all levels of society.
"The hope is that after this football match, this sports event, there will be an impact that raises awareness for peace," Father Guillermo Karcher told CNA Aug. 25, explaining to other journalists that "the Pope's concern for peace is very great."
"He sees in this event, this punctual message of the match for peace, a very positive element that gives a contribution, because it's necessary to try to build peace from all sides; from the political and diplomatic point of view," he said.
Fr. Guillermo Karcher is a close friend of Pope Francis, and was present for the Aug. 25 launch of the Inter-religious Match for Peace.
Set to take place at 8:45 p.m. local time on Sept. 1 in Rome's Olympic Stadium, the match will draw together past soccer players who represent different cultures and religions, including Buddhists, Christians – Catholic and Protestant – Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Shintos.
The game is being organized by retired Catholic soccer star Javier "Pupi" Zanetti, who was captain of the Argentinean national team and of Inter Milan in Italy. He was chosen to organize the symbolic game, which he has stated was the "explicit wish of Pope Francis," in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences.
The Scholas Occurrentes initiative and Italy's Fundazione PUPI are the two key organizations assisting in the organization of the match, which is being sponsored by organizations such as Fiat, Italian tire company Firelli, FIFA and various media outlets including Italian agencies Rai, Ansa and Vatican Radio.
Explaining how the idea was born, Fr. Kracher told journalists that it came from "the knowledge that Pope Francis already had when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, with Zanetti."
The friendship that was generated between the two during that time "was consolidated," and the two began to search for ways "to launch this message of building a world of peace."
After a private meeting between Pope Francis and Zanetti earlier this summer "it was no longer between him and Bergoglio, but with the Holy Father, and this brought a universal dimension, more global," the priest observed.
"The Holy Father continued to support it, and now comes this very beautiful nuance, which is to invite everyone to believe in peace."
Also present for the launch of the match was Cristian Ledesma, a midfielder for the Serie A club in Italy's Societa Sportiva Lazio, who is one of the players slated to participate in the match. He holds a dual citizen of Argentina and Italy, and has represented the latter in an international capacity since November 2010.
Ledesma explained to journalists that "it's a great honor" to play for an Argentinian Pope, and that "this initiative is most important because putting together a game like this, with so many people from different religions, is a wonderful thing."
Noting how soccer has a special power because "it is one of the most loved sports in the world," the Ledesma drew attention to how many countries, including the poor children of Africa, feel its impact.
"For a child it's enough to just give them a ball and they are able to have fun for even just a moment," he said. "I believe that soccer is a very strong tool with which to give a good message. With this game I believe that we can help many children."
Others among the 50 players participating in the inter-religious friendly match are Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi, Brazilian Marcos Senna Da Silva and Ethiopian captain Degu Gebreyes.
Captains will be Zanetti and Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who serves as captain for both the Serie A club Juventus and the Italy national team.