Lazio hosts the Vatican’s friendly against the World Roma Federation

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Lazio sponsors a friendly match between the Vatican and a team from World Roma …

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Lazio is sponsoring a friendly match between the Vatican and a team from the World Roma Federation in its latest effort to promote tolerance amid further episodes of racism and fascism from Lazio fans.

Captain Ciro Immobile is set to officiate Sunday’s match at Lazio’s Formello training center.

Pope Francis, who visited a gypsy community during his recent visit to Slovakia, will meet with the Croatian-based team from the World Roma Federation, Vatican players and Lazio’s leadership on Saturday before the match.

“All Brothers” is an extension of Francis’ efforts to promote dialogue and brotherhood, including through sports. But it also coincides with Lazio’s efforts to combat racism and discrimination in football.

Lazio’s “ultra” has long been known for their far-right political views and fascist views. Last month, Lazio suspended his eagle coach after he was filmed with a fascist greeting in front of fans. The eagle is Lazio’s mascot and flies around the stadium before matches.

Club president Claudio Lotito told a Vatican press conference on Tuesday that over the past 18 years he had “completely changed his mind” at the club, most recently with the nomination of the president of the Italian Shoah Foundation to its board.

The initiative to host the friendly match between the Vatican and the Romans was welcomed at all levels of the club, he said.

“This shows that we are on the side of values, that we are not on the side of those who use football for instrumental purposes that have nothing to do with sports,” Lotito said.

Immobile, on the other hand, was emotional by insisting on “we are all brothers” on the field and that the players know that they are role models, especially for young people. “I hope to be a good judge,” he joked.

The Vatican’s team consists of Swiss guards, Vatican staff and their family members. It is separated from the Clericus Cup team by Rome-based seminarians who regularly play in matches.

Proceeds from Sunday’s match, as well as from the auction of signed play balls from Saturday’s Lazio-Juventus match in Serie A, will go to a program run by the Archdiocese of Rome to incorporate Roma children into local football clubs.

During his September visit to the Roma community in Kosice, Slovakia, Francis acknowledged that Slovakia’s gypsies had long been subjected to “prejudice and harsh judgments, discriminatory stereotypes, defamatory words and gestures” and even misunderstandings on the part of the Catholic Church.

But he also urged residents to think about future generations in an effort to overcome their own prejudices and try to integrate better so their children can have a brighter future.

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