ROME (AP) – Pope Francis hopes a charity football match that will include Swiss Guards, Vatican workers, priests, a player with Down’s syndrome, migrants and members of the Roma community will ‘kickstart’ important to discrimination.
The match takes place in Rome on Sunday and will be refereed by Lazio team captain Ciro Immobile. The field meeting aims to raise funds for an initiative of the Diocese of Rome to promote the inclusion of Roma and other people considered in the description of the Vatican as among the “most fragile” members of society.
“It’s a team where there are no barriers and which makes inclusion just normal,” Francis told an audience of game participants on Saturday at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
Francis, in much of his speech, described the challenges facing the Roma community. In September, during a pilgrimage to Slovakia, the pontiff visited a Roma community.
“Dear Roma friends, I know your story, your reality, your fears and your hopes well,” Francis told participants of the football match, who he said “indicates that the path to peaceful coexistence is integration” .
The Pope noted that in Croatia there are sports initiatives aimed at the inclusion of Roma, which he praised for facilitating “mutual knowledge and friendship”. He also expressed the hope that the dream of children, who “have the right to grow up together”, will not be shattered by discriminatory barriers.
Francis wished the participants in the game good luck.
“It doesn’t matter who scores the most goals, because the decisive goal you score together, the goal that wins hope and kicks exclusion,” said Francis.
Among the players will be three migrants who arrived in Italy after living in a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece, and are now being helped by a Roman Catholic charity. The Pope visited Lesvos in 2016 and brought a dozen Syrian Muslims back with him on his flight back to Rome. The pontiff will return to Lesvos on trips early next month.
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