Vatican City

Soccer: Lazio, Roma meet pope before Cup final

Totti struck by Francis's humility

Soccer: Lazio, Roma meet pope before Cup final

Vatican City, May 22 - Delegations from soccer clubs AS Roma and Lazio met Pope Francis at his weekly audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday before the city rivals face face off in Sunday's Italian Cup final. Roma captain Francesco Totti was visibly moved after speaking with the pontiff. ''I had the impression I was dealing with a humble person,'' the former Italy striker said. ''Meeting him gave me a sense of security and humanity''. The Roma squad presented the pope with a personalized jersey bearing the number 1. ''He put everyone at ease and when we gave him the jersey, it was a unique experience,'' added Totti. Sunday's match between the two Serie A teams will mark the first time that the final, at Rome's Stadio Olimpico, is also a Rome derby. The papal blessing on both teams was also witnessed by Maurizio Beretta, president of the Serie A League, who offered the Pope a small replica of the Italian Cup. Lazio Chairman Claudio Lotito was so struck by the presence of the Pope that he pulled a set of rosary beads from his pocket and asked Francis to bless them before putting them away carefully. Roma Chairman James Pallotta was equally star-struck. ''I come from a Catholic family and meeting with the Pope is one of the most exciting experiences I've ever had'' said Pallotta, who is part of a Boston consortium that made Roma Serie A's first foreign-controlled club in 2011. ''It's a dream come true,'' added Pallotta, who also has a stake in the Boston Celtics and gave Francis a shirt of the NBA team. ''The blessing of Pope Francis will definitely bring luck to our team''. Lotito's Lazio squad is expecting the same. The event itself may need some luck as many are concerned the final could be marred by the type of violence that has frequently hit Rome derbies in the past, including the league match between the sides in April. Four people were arrested for involvement in the violence that saw eight people stabbed in a series of running battles. None were seriously injured, even though an ambulance arriving to provide medical assistance was attacked too. Police intervened with tear gas and seized knives, screwdrivers, clubs and even an axe. There has been even worse trouble in previous years. In 1979, Lazio fan Vincenzo Paparelli was hit in the eye and killed by a flare fired by a Roma fan from the opposite end of the stadium. A derby in 2004 was abandoned when hard-core ultra fans walked up to pitch to tell the players about reports that a child had been killed by a police car outside the stadium. The reports were false. A long battle ensued between police and fans outside the ground afterwards. Francis met a delegation from Serie A champions Juventus on Tuesday.

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