Pope Francis has organized an exhibition soccer match with all-star players to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The “match for the peace” will take place September 1 at the Olympic Stadium in Rome.
Among the top players, active and retired, scheduled to participate are Argentine greats Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Maradona told Argentine media that the pope called him personally and asked him “to play for the peace between Israel and Palestine.” Francis also called Messi to request his participation.
Last week, FC Barcelona star and UNICEF goodwill ambassador Messi posted a picture of a wounded Palestinian child from the Gaza Strip on his Facebook page, with an accompanying caption appealing for an end to all violence affecting children in the region.
“I am terribly saddened by the images coming from the conflict between Israel and Palestine, where violence has already claimed so many young lives and to injure countless children,” Messi, who has nearly 68 million Facebook followers, wrote both in English and in Arabic.
Yossi Benayoun, Israel’s star player in recent years, will also participate in next month’s Rome match, as will players from Russia, Cameroon, Italy, France and Brazil.
The match will be hosted by the Pupi Foundation, a charity founded by the Argentine soccer player Javer “Pupi” Zanetti, as well as the Pontifical Academy for Social Science.
In June, Francis hosted then-Israeli president Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a prayer summit at the Vatican, days after he had visited the Holy Land.