San Lorenzo: Explaining Pope Francis I's Passion for His Argentine Soccer Team
Popes have long been tied to the world of soccer. From the longstanding Vatican City league and Clericus Cup to Pope John Paul II playing as a youngster in Poland and Pope Benedict XVI’s fervent support for German power Bayern Munich, the sport has been nearly as much a part of the papacy as white smoke and communion.
With Wednesday’s election of Argentine Jorge Bergoglio as the new pope, football came to the fore again.
See, Bergoglio is a longtime fan of Argentine side San Lorenzo of Argentina's Premier League. And not just a casual fan, as you can see by the picture below (via the team's official Twitter account).
"He says he lives in a permanent state of suffering for San Lorenzo," Oscar Lucchini, an architect and fellow fan who gave Bergoglio his club membership card four years ago, told Reuters.
The former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio theoretically could have had his choice of good local clubs to follow, including more traditionally successful sides like Boca Juniors and River Plate.
In keeping with the Biblical tenet that “The meek…shall inherit the earth,” (Matthew 5:5), Bergoglio has embraced the struggles that come with supporting a side that finished 11th out of 20 in the Torneo Inicial, currently stands 12th in the league and last won a title in 2007.
Los Santos (the Saints)—ironically one of San Lorenzo’s nicknames—have won 14 first-division titles since their founding in 1908, but that’s just fifth among Argentine sides (behind River Plate, Boca Juniors, Independiente and Racing).
In fact, Los Santos have come dangerously close to relegation in recent years.
So, why San Lorenzo, Pope Francis I?
The Club Was Named After a Catholic Priest
In the early 20th century, Father Lorenzo Massa, the priest of a small neighborhood church in Buenos Aires, was worried about a group of children playing football in the increasingly busy streets.
Per Wikipedia, “As a way to prevent more accidents, he offered the boys to play in the church's backyard, under the condition they had to go to mass on Sundays.”
When discussions began about turning the backyard group into an official football club, they brought up the name “San Lorenzo” to honor the man indirectly responsible for its start.
Massa initially declined the honor but eventually agreed to it, "explaining that the name would not honor himself but both Lawrence of Rome (San Lorenzo in Spanish) and the Battle of San Lorenzo, one of the most symbolic battles for the Independence of Argentina."
Another of San Lorenzo’s nicknames is Los Cuervos (the Crows), which comes from the black colors of Father Massa's robes.
In fact, when Bergoglio’s papal appointment was announced, the club posted the photo at left on its website.
It means “Papa Crow.”
It’s not only the new pope who supports Los Cuervos. The side also claims Hollywood stud Viggo Mortensen among its celebrity fans.
According to The Independent, “The Lord of the Rings actor lived in Argentina during his childhood, where his love affair with the club began, and even has his own blog on the club’s website.”
But there’s much more to the story surrounding the actor who starred in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises:
More recently, [Mortensen’s] enthusiastic support for the club even got him into trouble at Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport. In May [of 2012], while watching San Lorenzo’s crucial late season clash with Newell’s Old Boys on his laptop, he began excitedly screaming and shouting when a last minute goal helped his side take the lead and complete an unlikely comeback from 2-0 down. Shortly afterwards he was grabbed by two policemen although eventually released without charge.
You can’t make this stuff up.
No, San Lorenzo isn’t exactly a powerhouse side these days, but they do have an impressive list of former players who wore the azulgrana.
Former stars include brilliant Paraguayan goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert, Uruguayan defender Paolo Montero and Argentinian national teamers Oscar Ruggeri, Pablo Zabaleta and Ezequiel Lavezzi.