Football superstar Lionel Messi has bagged himself a shirt signed by fellow Argentine soccer fanatic Pope Francis, the Vatican’s sports association said.
Paris Saint-Germain forward Messi, who returned to action on Sunday after a bout of Covid, had given the pontiff a signed piece of kit in October, via French Prime Minister Jean Castex.
In an unusual shirt swap, the yellow jersey of the Athletica Vaticana – the tiny state’s multi-sport team – was then given to Messi by French bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard.
“A man of faith, Messi told me how important this step was for him. We prayed together,” Gobilliard, who will be the Holy See’s delegate to the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, said on Twitter.
The scrawled signature in black pen by the 85-year old head of the Roman Catholic church was a “blessing” for the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, Athletica Vaticana said on Facebook.
Francis — a huge fan of the Buenos Aires team, San Lorenzo — first met Messi in 2013, shortly after being elected pope.
The pontiff shared memories last year of playing football as a child in the streets with makeshift balls, which he said sufficed to bring him and his childhood friends pleasure.
Pope Francis has said before that the Argentine is the best he has seen play. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has often earned praise from the leader of the Catholic Church.
Lionel Messi has often been compared to Pele and Maradona (greats of previous generations) and his contemporary Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Pope is an open San Lorenzo supporter and has backed his fellow countryman as the greatest of all time.
“For me, [Lionel] Messi is better than Maradona and Pele,” the Catholic leader told young men and women at the World Youth Day in 2016.
The Osservatore Romano notes that through this unusual initiative, “the exchange of shirts between the Pontiff and the Argentine star is therefore complete.” Last October, French Prime Minister Jean Castex gave Pope Francis an autographed shirt from the Paris Saint-Germain player.
(AFP; Picture Courtesy: Twitter/Mgr E.Gobilliard)