Like any self-respecting, red-blooded Argentine (or Italian, for that matter), Jorge Mario Bergoglio is obsessed with football (i.e., soccer as the Americans call the blessed game).
Now that Bergoglio has a new job -- leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics as the recently elected Pope Francis -- he may be the most famous soccer fan on the planet.
The pope’s favorite club -- the one he lives and dies by -- was partially founded by and named for a priest, the Saints of San Lorenzo, of the professional Argentine Football Association. Having grown up in the Flores neighborhood of Buenos Aires, in proximity to San Lorenzo’s stadium, Bergoglio inherited his father’s love for the team, turning it into a lifelong passion.
"He says he lives in a permanent state of suffering for San Lorenzo," fellow fan, architect Oscar Lucchini, told Reuters.
Officially founded in 1980, the team is named in honor of a Salesian priest named Lorenzo Massa, who played a key role in organizing the players and allowing them to practice and play on church grounds.
The pope is so close to the club that he now belongs to the association that owns the Saints. In May 2011, after delivering a mass for the team at its own chapel, then-cardinal Bergoglio received his own jersey.
Understandably, San Lorenzo is overwhelmed by their most prominent fan’s ascension to the papacy.
“It’s a pride for the institution to know that the first South American pope is a member of San Lorenzo,” the club said in a statement.
Angel Correa, a midfielder, gushed praise for the new pope. “I can’t believe it. My veins are running with a sensation very hard to describe, but very beautiful at the same time,” he said in comments posted on San Lorenzo’s website.
Alberto Acosta, one of San Lorenzo’s greatest stars, who once gave the new pope his jersey, told Fox Sports Del Plata: “After I retired, Bergoglio told me that, because I was going, we wouldn’t score goals on anybody.”
According to NPR, the pope is not even the only celebrity booster of the club -- American actor Viggo Mortensen (who apparently has no connection to Argentina) is also a fan.
Appropriately, San Lorenzo biggest rival are the Red Devils of Independiente, but the team with the satanic name has outperformed the Saints over history.
San Lorenzo has won 10 professional championships in Argentina’s first division, while the Devils have gained 14.
Even worse, San Lorenzo has never won South America’s most prestigious club title, the Copa Libertadores.
But Daniel Gonzalez, a fan of San Lorenzo, told Agence France Presse: "This new pope is a fan of San Lorenzo, and that is worth five Copas Libertadores!"
Fans of other clubs are apparently less impressed, since divine intervention probably cannot lead to victories on the pitch.
Lucas Roldan, a fan of another club called the Boca Juniors, told AFP: "I'm with Boca and for San Lorenzo. I imagine this is the first international trophy they've won."
The Saints probably need all the help they can get -- they have not won a league title in six years and is currently languishing in 12th place in a 20-club league.
The Express newspaper of UK reported that the pope also follows Argentina’s national team and that his favorite player is Lionel Messi.
But Pope Francis is hardly the only papal chief who loves football. His immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, passionately embraces German powerhouse Bayern Munich. Also, Pope John Paul II played the game during his youth in Poland.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.