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Soccer-loving pope meets world-class stars

  • Italy-Soccer-Argentina

    Argentine forward Lionel Messi runs during a training session at the Rome Olympic stadium, Monday, Aug.12, 2013. Argentina will play Italy in a friendly match scheduled for Wednesday, Aug.14. Both teams players and staff members will be received by Pope Francis in a private audience at the Vatican the day before the match. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

    <ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Vatican-Popal-Soccer

    FILE - In this March 31, 2013 file photo, Pope Francis holds a San Lorenzo's jersey, the Buenos Aires soccer team, handed to him by a faithful at the end of the Easter mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Twelve years after Italy and Argentina last played, the two predominantly Roman Catholic and soccer-mad nations are renewing their storied rivalry in a game dedicated to Pope Francis, an Argentine and a big soccer fan. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

    <ASSOCIATED PRESS

VATICAN CITY — Two big-name Argentines have had a VIP meeting at the Vatican — Pope Francis and Barcelona football star Lionel Messi.

The player, his fellow teammates on the Argentine national soccer squad as well as Italy’s national team players were enjoying a private audience today with the first Latin American-born pontiff in the Apostolic Palace. The teams meet Wednesday in Rome in a friendly match.

Francis told the players to remember they are role models on and off the field “for better or worse.” He asked for their prayers for himself “on the playing field God put me on.”

Francis lamented that sport has become big business.

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