Can international soccer be a force for peace in the Middle East?
Pope Francis and an all-star list of current and retired soccer players are betting that it can, and will test out that theory on Sept. 1, when the Pope hosts the "match for the peace" at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, JTA reported.
The Argentinian pope, an avid football fan and longtime card-carrying member of the Argentine football club San Lorenzo, personally called some of soccer's top international stars to ask them to appear at the onetime exhibition match, and a host of soccer aces, including Argentine soccer legends Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, agreed to play.
Messi, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, wrote on his Facebook page in English and Arabic, according to i24 News
, "I am terribly saddened by images coming from the conflict between Israel and Palestine, where violence has already claimed so many young lives and to injure countless children."
Last year, Messi and his Barcelona team tried to play in a similar exhibition match for peace in Israel, against a joint Israeli/Palestinian team, but the effort flopped when the Palestinians refused to take the field with the Israelis, i24 News reported.
This time, according to ANSA, current and past soccer stars will be playing.
Funds raised by the all-star event will go to Zanetti's Pupi Foundation, which helps poor children in Argentina and the Vatican's Scholas Occurrentes educational program, according to Marca
Pope Francis is highly popular in soccer circles — at the World Cup, Argentine fans were spotted wearing Pope Francis and Lionel Messi masks as their team competed, The Times of Israel reported.
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