Celtic players and Brendan Rodgers present Pope Francis with signed shirt

The Pontiff urged the club not to lose its 'amateur spirit'.

Celtic’s players and manager Brendan Rodgers have been granted an audience with Pope Francis following their match against Lazio in Rome.

The morning after the 2-0 Champions League defeat that ended their European hopes for the season, the team, management and club officials were welcomed to the Vatican.

Rodgers presented Pope Francis with a signed Celtic shirt and the players were urged to retain their “amateur spirit” despite the finance involved in the modern game.

Callum McGregor, Liam Scales, Stephen Welsh, Mikey Johnston, Anthony Ralston, Paulo Bernardo and Cameron Carter-Vickers joined Celtic chairman Peter Lawwell on the visit.

The Pontiff also told the Celtic stars that they should be mindful of their privileged positions and their status as role models.

He said: “I am pleased to welcome you here to the Vatican, during your stay in Rome following your UEFA Champions League match with Lazio yesterday evening.

“While it is true that winning rather than losing a match is always preferred, it is not the most important aspect.

“More vital is the example you give when winning or losing, both on and off the field. An example that embodies the virtues of courage, perseverance, generosity and respect for the God-given dignity of others.

Pope Francis greets Celtic players and staff.

“Indeed, Celtic Football Club was founded in 1887 with the specific goal of alleviating poverty in the city of Glasgow. This was truly a charitable undertaking for the sake of the most needy of our brothers and sisters.

“Yet, how much the world of football has changed since then.  In particular, the financial footprint of the ‘Beautiful Game’ has greatly increased, and at times can risk making football only attractive for reasons of monetary profit.

Peter Lawell presents the Pope with a Celtic cross.

“The valued legacy of your club, then, places a heavy responsibility upon your shoulders, reminding you to be good role-models, especially for young people. The standards you are called to set concern not only your abilities as sportsmen and the classic qualities required to excel, but are also about your personal integrity.

“In this regard, men and women should see in you not just fine footballers but also people of kindness, big-hearted men who know how to be wise stewards of the many benefits you receive from your privileged positions within society.

“With these brief remarks, I pray that you will continue to remember and bear witness to everything that makes sport genuinely good and noble. May Almighty God bless each of you and your families. I wish you a safe journey home to Scotland, and ask you, please, to pray for me.”

Pope Francis added: “In sport, the most beautiful thing is gratuitousness, that beauty of playing together. Please, never lose the amateur spirit.

“This is the beautiful thing: the amateur spirit, where sport is for sport. This means a great deal.

Brendan Rogers and Celtic players meet with the Pope.

“Thank you for this. It doesn’t matter if we have won or if we have not won, it doesn’t matter. Everyone struggles to win, but victory is not the goal, that can be defeat: victory is the entire process of playing together, playing as a team.

“Maintain the amateur spirit. That is the most beautiful thing about sport. Thank you for this visit.”

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