Pontiff or punt-iff? The Pope’s Super Bowl message

The Truth Between Us #7 – Before we sit down with friends and family to watch the big game, Dr. Murray Watson gives us a few brief thoughts on Pope Francis’s unprecedented Super Bowl message. Back to more serious matters next time!

Murray Watson: In Spanish, soccer is called futbol. So maybe we shouldn’t be terribly surprised when the first Latin American pope—who is famously a big soccer fan, supporting the Argentinian side San Lorenzo—decides to send his personal greetings to what is probably THE premier “football” event of the year: the Super Bowl (being played this year in Houston, Texas between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons).

It doesn’t really matter that futbol and football are two very different sports. Because, of course, the Pope’s message isn’t really about touchdowns and linebackers and field goals, anyhow: it’s about how sports can be a forum to bring people together in peace and friendship, and how taking part in sports is a good way to learn discipline, teamwork and dedication.

Will the Pope be sitting in his Vatican living room eating pizza, burritos and chicken wings today? I strongly doubt it. Could he even name the teams who are fighting it out in Houston this year? Likely not. How does the Pope feel about cheerleaders? We don’t really know.

And he probably isn’t going to follow the half-time show, or the ads, very closely.

But the very fact that an 80-year-old Argentine Bishop of Rome wanted to reach out to the world’s football fans during one of their “holy days” reminds us of how religion and daily life can (and should) overlap and influence each other. And even if “throwing around the pigskin” isn’t a phrase that fits comfortably with kosher observance, football is one of many ways in which Jews and Christians around the world are united today, huddled around TV with friends and family, cheering for their teams, munching on snack foods … and maybe, just maybe, a certain Catholic leader dressed in white is discreetly watching and cheering too. Viva futbol!

In “The Truth Between Us,” blog series at The Times of Israel, Dr. Murray Watson (see his introduction here) and I explore a wide range of issues surrounding Christianity, Jewish-Christian relations, and the Christian communities here in Israel. The goal is to reach greater knowledge and understanding about complex issues that lie where Christians and Jews meet.

About the Author
Lazar Berman, a former Times of Israel journalist, holds a Masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University. He has worked at the American Enterprise Institute, and served as a Chaplain-in-Residence at Georgetown. Lazar's writing has appeared in Commentary, the Journal of Strategic Studies, Mosaic, The American, and other outlets.