Lionel Messi, Argentina
The greatest player of his generation is a committed Catholic. He has met Pope Francis and in 2016 the Holy Father said that his compatriot (Messi, not Maradona) was the greatest footballer of all time. In Russia, the hopes of Argentina rest yet again on Messi’s shoulders. The nation only scraped through qualifying, so winning the World Cup seems unlikely even with the little maestro leading them. If Argentina do lift the cup, Messi has reportedly said he will go on pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of San Nicolás, in San Nicolás de los Arroyos in Buenos Aires province.
Andrés Iniesta, Spain
Perhaps Messi got the pilgrimage idea from another Catholic player, his former Barcelona teammate Andrés Iniesta. The legendary midfielder made his own promise to go on pilgrimage – in this case the Camino de Santiago – if Spain won the World Cup in 2010. And win they did, with Iniesta scoring the decisive goal in the final (it’s unclear whether he followed through on his pilgrimage promise, though).
Jakub Błaszczykowski, Poland
One of Poland’s star players experienced unspeakable trauma as a child, witnessing his father stab his mother to death. The devout Catholic has since spoken of how he believes his mother is looking after him from heaven. Błaszczykowski, who plays on the wing, reads the Bible every day and was an ambassador for World Youth Day in Kraków in 2016.
Javier Hernández, Mexico
There are certain to be displays of Evangelical Christianity during the tournament, mainly from South American players (look out for Brazil players sporting “I belong to Jesus” T-shirts). Watch out, also, for Mexico striker Javier Hernández’s own public display of faith: the Catholic player is regularly seen kneeling in prayer before the start of matches.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection