By Luke Coppen
POPE JOHN Paul II became the first pope in history to kick off a football match last weekend.
Sitting in the stands of Rome's 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, he watched the Italian national team draw with a team of foreigners chosen from Italy's Serie A.
The Pope, who famously played as a goalkeeper in his youth, said the match recalled "many memories of my life tied to sporting experiences".
The last football match the Pope saw before Sunday's clash was a televised 1982 world cup match between Poland and Italy.
At a Mass before the match, marking the Jubilee of Athletes, he paid tribute to sport's ability to overcome differences between nations.
"Sports can make a valid contribution to peaceful understanding among peoples and help the worldwide spread of the new civilisation of love," the pontiff said.
The day before, the Vatican's Swiss Guard took on an elite team of Polish priests on a bumpy pitch along the ancient Via Aurelia.
The Polish team, coached by the country's national coach, trounced the guards 8-1.
"We were very tired," said the Swiss Guard coach, Rolf Seifet, "because we were working hard during the Jubilee Year".