Pope Francis greets a crowd on his way to a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican on Feb. 21, 2014. RNS photo by David Gibson
No, really. That’s the word from semi-official Vatican media, not the Onion, the totally absurd satirical newspaper.
How did this get through the blanket coverage of all things Pope Francis?
Is it even true?
Apparently so, and it comes from Francis himself, who last week announced that there would be a boxing match in Las Vegas between a Catholic and a Muslim on May 7.
The news was slipped in at the end of a Feb. 4 Vatican Radio report on Francis announcing at a meeting with sports stars and students the day before that he was convening a second “Match for Peace,” an interreligious soccer match aimed at demonstrating “that we are capable of making peace with a game, with art,” as the pontiff put it.
The May 29 soccer match will be a reprise of the first Match for Peace, played in Rome in 2014. As Catholic News Agency explained, that match featured soccer players representing different religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Shintoism.
Coverage of last week’s announcement was understandably focused on the various soccer stars hanging out with the pontiff, such as Ronaldinho and Bryan Ruiz.
But at the end of the Vatican Radio report — which was also printed in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily — reporter Fausta Speranza noted that along with announcing the “Match for Peace,” the pope also announced that there would be “a boxing match between a Catholic and a Muslim in Las Vegas on May 7.”
Whoa. Pope Francis as Don King? (Without the distinctive hair, natch.)
There were no other details, such as who would be fighting, and no apparent follow-up — though we should have known something was up when earlier in the day the pontiff met with Mauricio Sulaiman Saldivar, president of the Mexico-based World Boxing Council.
The WBC chief gave the pope a green-and-gold “champion of faith” belt ahead of his visit this week to Mexico, as the photo below shows.
David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series