Maradona steals show from fellow Argentine Pope Francis

Mon Sep 1, 2014 8:20pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis normally has no competition for attention when he is in a room but it was different on Monday when another larger-than-life Argentine - soccer great Diego Maradona - attended a papal event.

Maradona was among some 400 people who attended a special papal audience for players and organizers of a charity match that was being played on Monday night in Rome to promote peace and inter-religious cooperation.

The pope read an address to the participants in the Vatican's large audience hall and then each of them filed past the pontiff to greet and have their picture taken with the leader of the world's approximately 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

Maradona, who led Argentina to World Cup victory in 1986 and played for Italian side Napoli, sat in the front row waiting his turn to greet the pope.

As the participants walked down the steps of the stage to return to their seats many of them stopped to greet Maradona and have their pictures taken with him immediately afterwards.

When his turn came to greet the pope, Maradona chatted with his compatriot longer than most of the others and gave him a light blue-and-white jersey with his Argentine national team number - 10 - and the name Francisco on it.

"Pope Francis is even bigger than Maradona," the former Argentina captain and coach told reporters, adding that Francis had inspired him to return to religion after many years.

"We should all imitate Pope Francis. If each one of us gives something to someone else, no-one in the world would be starving," said Maradona, who wore a dark suit to the papal audience.   Continued...

Former soccer star Diego Maradona (L) presents Pope Francis with an Argentina national soccer jersey during a special audience held before a special interreligious "Match for Peace", at the Paul VI hall at the Vatican September 1, 2014.  REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi