Pope Francis has said his Argentinian compatriot Lionel Messi is not “God” yet understands why people refer to him as if he is.
Barcelona forward Messi has scored 31 goals, including both in the 2-0 derby victory over Espanyol, and set up 12 more in 27 league games for the La Liga leaders.
He has netted 16 in 12 Champions League appearances to help Barca reach the quarterfinals and also helped his side progress to the Copa del Rey final.
Asked if it was a sacrilege to call the five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi “God,” thus breaking the third commandment by using the Lord’s name in vain, Pope Francis told Spanish TV La Sexta show Salvados: “In theory it’s a sacrilege.
“You can’t say it and I don’t believe it. I think people say ‘he is God’ just as they say ‘I adore you.’ You have to adore only God. It’s expressions that people use. This is a god with the ball on the pitch. It’s a popular way that people have of expressing themselves. Of course it is a joy [to watch Messi play]. But he is not God.”
Born in Buenos Aires, the head of the Catholic church is a football fan and club member of Argentinian side San Lorenzo.
Messi and the Argentina national team met Pope Francis in the summer of 2013 at the Vatican and the national team captain described the meeting as “short but beautiful.”
A year later, Messi was among other Argentina internationals to sign a national team jersey which was sent to Pope Francis as a gift during the 2014 World Cup, where Argentina finished runners up to Germany.