For Pope soccer’s both a passion and a Gospel strategy

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Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Even though the Vatican is being tight-lipped regarding Pope Francis’s mode of following the soccer World Cup unfolding in Russia this month, it’s hard to believe he woke up on Friday not knowing that his national team Argentina lost 3-0 to Croatia and is a step closer to elimination from the tournament.

“We can be pretty sure he knows what’s going on,” a senior Vatican official told Crux on Saturday about whether Francis is being kept up to date on the action.

The passion fueled by soccer in many countries of the world is comparable to that of the Super Bowl for Americans, sometimes even more: Last week, when Mexico scored the go-ahead goal against Germany, the celebration back home actually triggered earthquake alarms.

Despite not being one to watch the games himself- Francis once famously said that he’s never even seen Lionel Messi, arguably the world’s best soccer player right now, score a goal, because back in 1990 he made a promise to Our Lady not to watch TV – the pope is known to be an avid soccer fan.

The last time the World Cup was played, back in 2014, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the pope reportedly asked the Swiss Guard, his small personal army, to keep him updated on how Argentina was doing. Attempts to confirm that this was the case this year have yielded no response, with the guards insisting that the pope’s requests remain confidential.

It’s well known among close observers that Francis loves the sport. Less known perhaps, is that when he was in Argentina, he saw soccer as an ice-breaker and yet another element of a Church that goes out to encounter the faithful where they are.