Football-mad Pope Francis greets his winning team

AFP| Updated: Dec 18, 2013, 19:53 PM IST

Vatican City: Pope Francis warmly greeted players from his favourite football team San Lorenzo after a general audience in St Peter`s Square on Wednesday, following their victory in the national championship in Argentina.

The Vatican said the 77-year-old Argentine pontiff, who is still a member of the club that he used to watch in Buenos Aires as a child with his father, was delighted when they clinched the title on Sunday.

The delegation of players and team managers handed a smiling Francis their championship trophy as well as the club`s red-and-blue jersey with "Francisco Campeon" ("Francis Champion") emblazoned on the back.

The pontiff has pushed for sports to take a more prominent place in the Catholic Church, championing team games as good for mind, body and soul and calling for more "spiritual athletes."

The club -- officially known as Club Atletico San Lorenzo de Almagro -- dedicated their victory to him.

It traces its origins to 1907, when a Catholic priest, Lorenzo Massa, allowed boys playing football in the streets of Buenos Aires to play in his church`s yard.

The club was founded the following year.

San Lorenzo will now represent Argentina in the annual Copa Libertadores South American football tournament.