San Lorenzo gives top fan Pope Francis their trophy

VATICAN CITY Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:12am EST

1 of 8. A member of Argentine soccer team San Lorenzo presents Pope Francis (R) with the replica of the trophy that they won in the Argentine soccer championship, during the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican December 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - San Lorenzo visited Pope Francis on Wednesday and gave their number one fan their Argentine league trophy and one of the gloves goalkeeper Sebastian Torrico was wearing in the decisive match last Sunday.

"He told us of the happiness our victory brought him," said club vice president Marcelo Tinelli.

San Lorenzo, who Francis cheered on for decades when he was in his homeland, won the Inicial, the first of two championships in the 2013/14 season.

Seven team officials and two players, including Torrico, attended the pope's weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square and then met him privately for about half an hour in the guest house where he lives.

Tinelli said the team had made a "silent promise" that they would fly to Rome and give the pope the trophy "because he is the most famous fan of San Lorenzo in the world".

The pope told them that he would keep the trophy and the glove in "a Vatican museum".

The pope is an honorary member of the club nicknamed the Saints of Boedo for the barrio where they were founded by a group of young men that included a priest in 1908.

The San Lorenzo team and the pope discussed one of Torrico's brilliant saves that kept them in the match at Velez Sarsfield.

HELPING HAND

Tinelli joked that the match was saved by "His hand (Torrico's), the hand of the pope, and the hand of God."

Team members erupted in laughter when Tinelli used the phrase "Hand of God," which is how Argentina's Diego Maradona described his controversial goal during the 1986 World Cup tournament against England.

When a team member asked the pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, how he was holding up under the weight of the papacy, he told them: "I have not lost my inner peace".

He told the team he would not be visiting Argentina before 2016 to attend a Church congress there that will coincide with the 200th anniversary of Argentine independence.

He gave the team an icon of the Madonna, which they said they would keep in their stadium as a "precious reminder" of their top fan.

They also gave him a picture of Rene Pontoni, an Argentine soccer great who helped San Lorenzo win the Primera Division title in 1946, when the pope was 10 years old and already a fan.

The pope has been seen receiving shirts and scarves from fans with San Lorenzo's blue and red colors during his public appearances and Wednesday was no different with the team giving him a shirt reading "Francisco Campeon" (Francis the Champion).

An Argentine journalist jokingly asked Tinelli if the pope's blessing meant that fans of all other Argentine clubs had been excommunicated. "I don't think so," he said with a smile.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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