Pope Francis Still Roots for His Hometown Soccer Team
As Pope Francis rode outside of the Vatican in early September, an Argentine man shouted a question about soccer at him.
“Are we going to beat Boca on Sunday?”
Boca referred to Club Boca Juniors, a Buenos Aires team that would later play San Lorenzo de Almagro, the Pope’s hometown squad. Founded in 1908 by a Salesian Priest, San Lorenzo is currently second in Argentina’s Primera División,1 a physical league where stars like Diego Maradonna honed their skills before heading to more lucrative contracts in Europe. Until this year, league policy prohibited visiting fans from attending league matches, a strategy implemented after a series of deadly brawls between fan bases.2
When asked about the game, Francis emphatically nodded, said “yes,” kissed a baby and silently blessed a small group of followers. He looked back at the man recording him on his cell phone and smiled.3
“Crows like pizza,” he said. San Lorenzo’s fan base is commonly known as the crows. The Buenos Aires neighborhood La Boca is known for its Italian immigration, and therefore pizza. He was talking trash, ruffling feathers: Boca was about to be devoured. Considering that nine out of every ten Argentines identify as Catholic, it’s a fair bet that most Boca supporters heard the smack their countryman Francis talked. Out of all the terrorist groups, international corporations and nation states he could have commented on, the most powerful figure in the Catholic Church was rooting against their favorite team.
Catholic Boca fans had three options: convert, root for San Lorenzo like good Catholics, or not make such a big deal out of the Pope’s words. The vast majority presumably did the latter. During his brief tenure as Pope, Francis has rooted for San Lorenzo like his words don’t make headlines across the globe. He regularly discusses San Lorenzo’s upcoming games outside of the Vatican.4 In 2013, while riding the Pope mobile, the Pope gestured “3-0,” the score of the club’s most recent victory.5 Last year, a fan of rival Argentine club Independiente shouted his team’s motto at the Pope outside the Vatican.“Pobrecito,” or poor little thing, responded Francis.6 In December 2013, San Lorenzo won the Torneo Inicial, the season-long tournament that determines the champion of league play. Pope Francis invited the entire squad to the Vatican to honor their victory and mentioned their success in an address to St. Peter’s square. While there, San Lorenzo’s upper management showed Francis the trophy and gave the Pope a gift: a jersey with his name on the back.
Francis has defined his papacy thus far by engaging the world’s most pressing issues with a modest honesty that lacks the grandeur of his predecessors. His support for San Lorenzo, it seems, is more than just a political gimmick — he seems to genuinely care.
“You’re all shameless!” he joked in response to the jersey.
Francis has defined his papacy thus far by engaging the world’s most pressing issues with a modesty that lacks the grandeur of his predecessors. His support for San Lorenzo, though, proves that he subjects himself to the monotony of sports just like the rest of us. Sometimes the good guys win (like they did against Boca that Sunday, 1-0) and sometimes they lose. No matter what, the fans will return to their real lives tomorrow morning. Some will pick up trash. Others will sit in an office. And one will still be Pope.