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Pope gives football giant Lionel Messi signed shirt

Pope gives football giant Lionel Messi signed shirt

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Football superstar Lionel Messi has bagged himself a shirt signed by fellow Argentine soccer fanatic Pope Francis, the Vatican's sports association said Monday.

Paris Saint-Germain forward Messi, who returned to action on Sunday after a bout of Covid, had given the pontiff a signed piece of kit in October, via French Prime Minister Jean Castex.

In an unusual shirt swap, the yellow jersey of the Athletica Vaticana -- the tiny state's multi-sport team -- was then given to Messi by French bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard.

"A man of faith, Messi told me how important this step was for him. We prayed together," Gobilliard, who will be the Holy See's delegate to the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, said on Twitter.

The scrawled signature in black pen by the 85-year old head of the Roman Catholic church was a "blessing" for the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, Athletica Vaticana said on Facebook.

Francis -- a huge fan of the Buenos Aires team, San Lorenzo -- first met Messi in 2013, shortly after being elected pope.

The pontiff shared memories last year of playing football as a child in the streets with makeshift balls, which he said sufficed to bring him and his childhood friends pleasure.