Young soccer star scores papal blessing

  • February 1, 2014

TORONTO - Toronto’s Christian Hanif, on a sports trip to Rome, found out that sometimes in life you score when you least expect it.

The 12-year-old soccer player travelled to Italy at the beginning of January with his team MFA Canada’s Select for the 4th Memorial Ielasi Tournament, named after a young football star Roberto Ielasi who was killed in a car accident.

Canada’s Select was the first non-professional academy and Canadian team to play in the tournament. Italian coach Stefano Calvigioni, who helped the team gain entry into the competition, arranged for the players to visit the Vatican. Calvigioni also works for the Olympic committee in Italy and has written a book on sports within the Vatican.

Once through security, the team was seated where diplomats and a professional soccer team were located, next to the altar and behind the bishops, recalled Hanif ’s father, Jonathan. It was an outside Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

Hanif, the youngest on his team, joined teammate Bryn Barker on behalf of Canada’s Select to present Pope Francis with an icon of St. Augustine from St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto. They also presented a Team Canada hockey jersey to Archbishop Georg Gäenswein, master of the papal household. The Pope, in turn, blessed the boys and presented them with rosaries.

“One of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt. He blessed me and everything. It was honestly amazing,” said the young Hanif, recalling how the Pope placed his hand on his head. He plans on framing his rosary.

“I’ve never seen him behave that way,” said Hanif ’s father. “He really wanted to hold on to that rosary, that it was really something close to his heart.”

Jonathan describes a scene full of Catholics weeping out of joy in meeting Pope Francis.

Reflecting on the highlights and opportunities this trip provided him, Hanif says, “I was blessed, first of all. I got to meet the Pope, which is one in a million. I got to play in a tournament, which is really hard to play in.”

Canada Select placed seventh of 12 teams. Team members were from Toronto, Barrie and surrounding areas.

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