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FCB honoured

Private audience with Pope Francis

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The Bayern travelling party would normally have had every reason to lie in on Wednesday morning, but less than 11 hours after a gala 7-1 victory away to AS Roma the men from Munich were back on duty. Smartly attired in their official club suits, a delegation of players, coaches and officials left the team hotel and made their way to the Vatican for the next highlight on their trip to the Eternal City, a private audience with Pope Francis.

The head of the global Catholic Church was also clearly looking forward to the occasion. Shortly before the Munich party set off, the Vatican enquired whether the visitors were already en route. The Bayern bus was the first vehicle of the day admitted to the inner precincts of the Vatican. The group from Munich then awaited the audience in the Apostolic Palace, the Papal residence within the Vatican.

On his arrival, Francis praised his guests’ performance at Stadio Olimpico. “You played a wonderful game yesterday,” the Holy Father told the delegation in Italian. The Pope, a passionate football fan, admitted to “surprise” at the margin of victory the previous evening. “Football is good and healthy, and a good role model for children as a team sport,” he said.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who headed the FC Bayern delegation together with his fellow directors and the club’s executive committee led by president Karl Hopfner, had previously expressed thanks for the invitation, also in Italian: “It is a great honour for us.” Rummenigge presented the Pope with a football signed by all the players, symbolically representing a friendly match to be played in the course of the next year. Out of the revenues from the match, FCB will place €1 million at the Pope’s disposal for charitable purposes. FCB captain Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer also presented Francis with a framed and signed original Bayern shirt bearing the number 1 and the name “Francis.”

The Pope was personally present to see Rummenigge play in the 1986 World Cup Final in Mexico, he revealed. The members of the delegation then received a gift of their own, a small crucifix on a chain. “It was inspiring for us all,” Philipp Lahm told after the 15-minute audience, “we’re delighted we had the chance to experience this.” David Alaba said he was “unbelievably impressed” and spoke of “one of the greatest experiences of my life”.