Pope Francis meets with professional soccer team founded by a Catholic religious

Pope Francis meets with professional soccer players from the Celtic Football Club, a team founded by an Irish Catholic religious brother, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Nov 29, 2023 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis met Wednesday with professional soccer players from the Celtic Football Club, a team founded by an Irish Catholic religious brother.

The pope, who is known to be an avid soccer fan, met with the team on Nov. 29 while still recovering from the flu and lung inflammation, according to the Vatican.

Francis told the team: “Excuse me, but with this cold, I cannot speak much, but I am better than yesterday.” The pope asked a priest to read his message to the athletes and then greeted them one by one.

Celtic F.C. is a Scottish soccer team based in Glasgow. The team was founded in 1887 by Brother Walfrid, a consecrated Marist brother, to help raise funds to feed the poor. 

Brother Walfrid was born as Andrew Kerins in Ireland’s County Sligo in 1840 and grew up in poverty amid the Irish potato famine. He emigrated to Scotland at the age of 15 where he discerned a vocation to religious life with the Marist Brothers, a Catholic religious institute of consecrated brothers dedicated to the education of the poor.

Pope Francis meets with professional soccer players from the Celtic Football Club, a team founded by an Irish Catholic religious brother, on Nov. 29, 2023, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

Walfrid started Celtic with the mission of supplying “funds for the maintenance of the dinner tables of our needy children,” particularly in the impoverished Irish immigrant neighborhoods of Glasgow’s East End.

“He envisaged harnessing the potential of the Irish Catholic diaspora through the vehicle of a football club. … He believed his endeavor could in turn provide monies which could be used to charitably ameliorate the situation of the neediest members of the community,” said Michael Connolly, author of “Walfrid: A Life of Faith, Community, and Football” published in 2022.

In its long history, the team has been known for its rivalry with another Scottish club called the Rangers, who drew support largely from the Protestant Unionist community in Glasgow, and at some points the bitter rivalry has devolved into violence.

The Scottish soccer team was in Rome for a Champions League match on Nov. 28 against the local S.S. Lazio club and lost to the Italians 2-0. 

Pope Francis offered words of encouragement to the players the day after their loss. 

“Everyone struggles to win, but victory is not the goal, that can be defeat,” the pope said in brief off-the-cuff remarks. 

“Victory is the entire process of playing together, playing as a team,” he added.

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