VATICAN CITY (RNS) It may not have been his kind of "football," and he may not have much use for his new helmet, but Pope Francis welcomed a group of NFL veterans and told them their sport has "virtues."
Curtis Martin, Ronnie Lott, Floyd Little and other Hall of Famers met with the pope for a private audience and presented him with his own personalized jersey emblazoned with "Papa Francesco" and the numeral 1, as well as a signed gold helmet.
“As many of you know, I am an avid follower of ‘football,’ but where I come from, the game is played very differently!” the Argentinian pope said before urging the players to promote sportsmanship and build a better future for society.
“Teamwork, fair play and the pursuit of personal excellence are the values — in the religious sense, we can say virtues — that have guided your own commitment on the field,” the pope said.
“Yet these same values are urgently needed off the field, on all levels of our life as a community.”
Francis, a lifelong soccer fan who follows the Buenos Aires squad San Lorenzo de Almagro, has greeted several teams at the Vatican since he was elected in 2013.
He also endorses an annual initiative that brings together soccer stars from around the world to play an exhibition game in Rome.
The pope said sporting values helped to counter “exaggerated individualism, indifference and injustice” that stop us from living as one human family.
“Our world, and especially our young people, need models, persons who show us how to bring out the best in ourselves, to use our God-given gifts and talents, and in so doing, to point the way to a better future for our societies,” the pope said.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 5, was also a member of the delegation that met the pope.