Pope Francis is visiting Philadelphia this weekend to bless the Union. Well, not really. But as an avid soccer fan, the Union would surely love to have the Holy Father in the stands next Wednesday for its Open Cup final match against Sporting Kansas City.
His Holiness grew up a soccer fan at a young age in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His favorite team was Argentinian club San Lorenzo. He and his family used to attend matches when he was young, where he would take in the atmosphere and excitement in the stadium.
In the book, “Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio” by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti, he comments on how fans have changed over the years.
“[Back then] people would yell at the referee that he was a bum, a scoundrel, a sellout,” Francis said. “Nothing in comparison to the epithets they use today.”
The Sons of Ben would probably agree with that statement.
In the 1940s, San Lorenzo was a dominant soccer power. They won their only national cup in 1943, the Copa General Pedro Ramirez. They knocked off Spain’s national team twice in 1946, beating them 7-5 and 6-1 as well as Portugal’s national team 10-4. The Spanish crowds chanted “son els millor del mon” for San Lorenzo, which translates to “you are the best in the world."
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As a young boy, Francis got to witness some of these moments. His soccer hero growing up was forward Rene Pontoni. Pontoni played for San Lorenzo from 1945-1948, scoring 66 goals. He suffered a career-threatening injury in 1948 which derailed his career at a young age. He would go on to manage San Lorenzo as a coach in 1962.
In 2014, San Lorenzo won the Copa Libertadores, downing Club Nacional 2-1 on aggregate to win the title. The team presented Francis with a jersey that read “Francisco Campeon (Francis Champion)” and included a picture of Pontoni as part of the gift.
Francis was recently asked by a young fan if he thought San Lorenzo would beat Boca in an upcoming match, where he responded, “obviously, the Crows like pizza”, referring to one of the team’s nicknames. They’re also known as the Saints, the Cyclones, the Blue and Red and the Killers. In 2013, team vice-president Marcelo Tinelli told Fox Sports that Francis still pays club dues “religiously” despite his busy profession.
So maybe, just maybe if you’re at a local watering hole this weekend like the P.O.P.E. (Pub on Passyunk East), Fado or Brahaus Schmidtz, you might just see the actual Pope take up a bar stool next to you watching an early soccer match. He may even be drinking a local beer, such as Manayunk Brewing’s Papal Ale, Philadelphia Brewing’s Holy Wooder or Cape May Brewing’s You Only Pope Once.
He has to know that Philly is also one of the biggest beer cities in America, right?