(Zenit.org) Argentine soccer start Lionel Messi says today is an "unforgettable day" because he was able to meet the Pope in the lead up to Wednesday's friendly soccer match between Italy and Argentina.
The game has been organized in honor of Pope Francis, who has commented many times on his love for the sport.
Messi and the captain of Italy's team, Gianluigi Buffon, spoke at a press conference following their audience with the Pope.
The Italian goalkeeper said that "it is an honor to be able to participate in the event that will take place tomorrow."
He also assured that today was a special day that will stay in their minds and hearts forever. In regard to Francis, they said that he is “a special Pope,” a Pope who points out to us the path to follow, who warms our heart.
For his part Messi pointed out that “what we experienced was very special” and that “the fact that the Pope is Argentine makes it that much more special.”
“Soccer has taken me all over the world, to the most incredible places, but today has really been a special, unforgettable day,” said the forward.
Buffon added that it was a “moving meeting” and that “to have the honor to participate in a meeting with this Pope is gratifying and makes you appreciate the day in a special way.”
Asked by a journalist about the Holy Father’s invitation to be “amateurs,” the Italian player backed the Pope's recommendation, saying that it is beautiful not to lose the passion that brings a child or youth close to sport.
Cesare Prandelli, the Italian manager, also said that he was moved by the Pope’s address, stressing the three key words of Francis’ message – beauty, gratuitousness (or generosity) and comradeship – which are also “words that we trainers use.”
The Pope also spoke to the players about their responsibility to be a model for so many people, especially youths. In this connection, Messi said he believes that the right model is the one that parents teach to their small children, outstanding among which is respect for others, to struggle for what one wants without harming anyone, not to think only of oneself, but, above all, “respect is fundamental to be a better person.” Buffon added to this aspect that it is also important “to maintain unaltered the passion and vocation that, as a child, brings you close to the discipline that is practiced” and this passion is not a "daughter of business.”
A journalist joked about the possibility that tomorrow’s match would be a sort of miracle of Pope Francis to assure that Italy and Argentina are in the finals in the forthcoming World Cups, to which Buffon answered that he thinks Francis has more important things on which to “work miracles.”