Football-mad Pope Francis greets his winning team

Football-mad Pope Francis greets his winning team

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis warmly greeted players from his favourite football team San Lorenzo after a general audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday, following their victory in the national championship in Argentina.

The Vatican said the 77-year-old Argentine pontiff, who is still a member of the club that he used to watch in Buenos Aires as a child with his father, was delighted when they clinched the title on Sunday.

The delegation of players and team managers handed a smiling Francis their championship trophy as well as the club's red-and-blue jersey with "Francisco Campeon" ("Francis Champion") emblazoned on the back.

The pontiff has pushed for sports to take a more prominent place in the Catholic Church, championing team games as good for mind, body and soul and calling for more "spiritual athletes."

The club - officially known as Club Atletico San Lorenzo de Almagro - dedicated their victory to him.

It traces its origins to 1907, when a Catholic priest, Lorenzo Massa, allowed boys playing football in the streets of Buenos Aires to play in his church's yard.

The club was founded the following year.

San Lorenzo will now represent Argentina in the annual Copa Libertadores South American football tournament.

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