Pope Francis tells Celtic FC delegation that winning isn’t everything

“In sport… the most beautiful thing is gratuitousness, the beauty of playing together,” Pope Francis told Glasgow’s Celtic Football Club on Wednesday, in a meeting in the Paul VI Hall prior to the Pope’s General Audience.

The Pope spoke briefly off-the-cuff after his speech to the team was read by an assistant. Speaking in Italian, Pope Francis invited the players to never lose their amateur spirit, their love of sport for its own sake. While noting that athletes always play to win, he nonetheless insisted that victory on the field is not the ultimate goal: true victory is “playing the game together, all the way through, playing as a team.” This, he said, “is the most beautiful thing about sport.”

In his prepared remarks, Pope Francis emphasised that setting a good example on and off the field is more important than winning. A good example “embodies the virtues of courage, perseverance, generosity, and respect for the God-given dignity of others,” he said.

The Pope recalled that Celtic was founded specifically for “alleviating poverty in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, and praised the “truly… charitable undertaking for the most needy of our brothers and sisters.” At the same time, he lamented how the “beautiful game” has changed, and is now at risk of being played only for financial profit.

“The valued legacy of your Club,” the Pope told players, “places a heavy responsibility upon your shoulders, reminding you to be good role models, especially for young people.” He encouraged them not only to strive for athletic excellence, but to also be concerned about their “personal integrity,” so that people would see them as “people of kindness, big-hearted men who know how to be wise stewards of the many benefits you receive from your privileged positions within society.”

Pope Francis concluded his remarks with the prayer that players “will continue to remember and bear witness to everything that makes sport genuinely good and noble.”

Celtic was in Rome for a UEFA Champions match against Lazio, which the Italian side won 2-0.

Pope Francis addresses the team

Above: Pope Francis addresses the team
Main pic: Celtic FC manager Brendan Rodgers hands Pope Francis a signed team shirt