VATICAN CITY – Players and officials from Roma and Lazio met with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday in a peace initiative before the Italian Cup final between the two bitter rivals.
They met during the general audience four days before the match at Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
"We decided to participate in today's audience in a public way and not privately because of the need to be among the people, to show the fans a sign of humility and a message of calm and respect for your opponent," Lazio president Claudio Lotito said.
The Pope was given jerseys from both clubs, bearing the name Papa Francesco and No. 1. Roma president James Pallotta also gave the Pope a Boston Celtics shirt. The American is a minority owner of the NBA team.
"I had the impression that I was meeting a humble man, like any other," Roma captain Francesco Totti said. "The Pontiff made everyone feel at ease, he communicated confidence and benevolence to me. Presenting him our club's jersey was an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Maurizio Beretta, president of the Italian league, presented the Pope with a football and a miniature replica of the Italian Cup trophy.
Pope Francis, who is a soccer lover and an avid fan of Argentine team San Lorenzo, had a private meeting Tuesday with a delegation from Juventus that included coach Antonio Conte and captain Gianluigi Buffon.