Be champions of virtue, Pope Francis tells Coppa Italia finalists

Pope Francis meets with Italian Cup finalists from teams Juventus and Lazio in Vatican City May 16 2017 Credit LOsservatore Romano 2 CNA Pope Francis is presented with an S.S. Lazio jersey at his meeting with the Coppa Italia finalists at the Vatican, May 16, 2017. | L'Osservatore Romano.

Two opposing Italian football teams came together on Tuesday to meet in a private audience with Pope Francis, where he encouraged the Coppa Italia finalists to be upstanding role models of virtue, especially to the youth.

"I would like to reflect, briefly, on the importance of sport and consider the fascination it exerts and the impact of professional football on people, especially young people, towards whom you have a responsibility," Pope Francis told the Italian football teams May 16. The staff, coaches, and players of both teams were present during the papal audience.

"Those who are considered 'champions' easily become role models. Therefore, every match is a test of balance, of self-mastery, of respect for the rules."

"He, who through his behavior, puts all of this into practice, provides a good example for his followers, and this is what I wish for each of you: to be witnesses of loyalty, honesty, harmony and humanity," the Holy Father continued.

The two Serie A teams, Juventus (from Turin) and Lazio (from Rome), are the finalists in the upcoming Coppa Italia tournament which will take place Wednesday at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Juventus is the defending champion of the tournament, and has won the title 11 times, to Lazio's six.

During their meeting, Pope Francis lamented the occasions of violence that sometimes occur during the football games, saying, "sadly, there are episodes of violence which affect the serenity of matches and the healthy enjoyment for the fans."

However, the Holy Father encouraged the players to remain good sports and be "promoters of harmony," even when tensions rise during the game.

The two teams presented Pope Francis with honorary football jerseys during their audience, along with a replica of the tournament's trophy, the Coppa Italia. The Holy Father also wished both sides a good game.

"I thank you for your visit with all of my heart," Pope Francis stated, "and I hope you play out a great match."

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