Thousands of sports fans, young and old, came out to Rome’s Olympic Stadium Monday night to watch football greats Roberto Baggio, Javier Zanetti and Diego Armando Maradona, among others, take part in the Interreligious Match for Peace.
Players representing the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Shinto religions took to the field for the 8:45 p.m. kickoff.
The event was intended to gather players and fans in a moment of unity and solidarity in support of world peace and to demonstrate the power of sport in building peace.
Zanetti, the retired captain of Argentina’s national soccer team and current vice-president of Milan’s Inter, described the match as “a symbolic gesture to help people understand that it is possible to build a world of peace, based on dialogue and respect for others.”
He said the match was the explicit wish of Pope Francis.
Earlier in the day, the 50 former and current professional players who took part in the game were received in an audience with the Pope in the Vatican.
Pope Francis told the athletes that the event was “a highly symbolic gesture to show that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace, where believers of different religions – preserving their identities …can live together in harmony and reciprocal respect.”
The Pope said to “discriminate” is the same as “contempt”, and with their game the players were saying “no to all discrimination.”
The event was organized by the Scholas Occurrentes initiative and Italy's PUPI Foundation, in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences.
Proceeds will go to “Un'Alternativa di Vita”, a project that supports poor children in Buenos Aires, Argentina.