Football world champions Germany were greeted by Pope Francis at an audience in the Vatican on Monday before beginning preparations for a friendly international against Italy.
Bayern Munich’s Thomas Mueller and Mats Hummels presented the pope with a Germany jersey signed by the squad and a fabric painted by children from a charity set up by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
The pope, a keen football fan whose home nation Argentina lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany, praised Germany’s team spirit.
“I have often heard it said that your victories are team victories,” he said noting the team is referred to as “Die Mannschaft” (the team).
“Truly, competitive sport not only requires a great deal of discipline and personal sacrifice, but also respect for others and team spirit.
“This carries you to success as ‘Die Mannschaft’ and at the same time causes you to recognize your responsibility on the football pitch, especially to the young people who often see you as role models.”
The pope also thanked the team for their support for the “Sternsinger” collection in Catholic parishes in Germany to raise money for children and young people in poor countries around the world.
“It was very nice. He has reached all of us,” Germany coach Joachim Loew told dpa after the visit.
Werder Bremen midfielder Serge Gnabry, who scored a hat-trick on his national team debut Friday against San Marino, said: “It was impressive. Not many people have the opportunity of experiencing the pope.”
Following the visit, the squad was driven to the airport for a flight to Milan where Germany play Italy in a friendly international on Tuesday.