Pope Francis remembers football legend and fellow Argentine Diego Maradona with affection and is keeping him in his prayers, the Vatican said on Wednesday.
Maradona, who died on Wednesday at his home in Argentina after a heart attack, met the pope several times at the Vatican after Francis was elected in 2013 as Latin America’s first pope.
“The pope was informed about the death of Diego Maradona, he recalls the times he met him in these past years with affection, and he is remembering him in his prayers, as he did in the past days when he was informed about his condition,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
Francis is a lifelong fan of the Buenos Aires San Lorenzo football team.
The official Vatican News website ran a story of Maradona’s death on its front page with a headline calling him “football’s poet.”
It called Maradona “an extraordinary player but a fragile man,” a reference to his struggle with drugs.
Maradona travelled to Rome several times to take part in several benefit games called “Matches for Peace,” whose proceeds went to a papal charity for education in developing countries and for victims of the 2106 earthquake in central Italy.
On one occasion, Maradona gave the pope a signed jersey with a dedication that read in Spanish: “To Pope Francis, with all my affection and [wishes for] much peace in the world.”
Before one match he told Vatican Radio: “I think we all feel something in our hearts when we see wars, when we see the dead. I think this match will put to rest the notion that we football players don’t do anything for peace … a football is worth more than 100 rifles.”
Many of the world’s biggest football players and clubs paid tribute to Maradona, following the news of his passing.
Maradona won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986, but the Brazilian FA also released a statement in tribute, which read: “Football is in mourning. Diego Armando Maradona excited the world with his grit, irreverence and ability with the ball and on the pitch.
“A star who contribute in spreading the passion for football among South Americans.”