Football: 'He's great to watch, but he's not God' - Pope sets fans straight on Messi

Pope Francis receives a Barcelona soccer jersey of player Lionel Messi during the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican in 2013.
Pope Francis receives a Barcelona soccer jersey of player Lionel Messi during the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican in 2013.PHOTO: REUTERS

BARCELONA (REUTERS) - For Barcelona fans, Lionel Messi is "D10S", a combination of the Spanish word for "God" - "dios" - with the No. 10 on his shirt. But Pope Francis begs to differ.

Interviewed by Spanish TV channel La Sexta on Sunday (March 31), the pontiff praised his Argentinian football superstar compatriot, but said he must not be called God.

"In theory, it is sacrilege," explained the leader of the Catholic Church. "You can't do it.

"People could call him God, just as they might say 'I adore you', but only God can be worshipped.

"(Saying) 'He's a god with the ball on the pitch' is a popular way to express yourself. He's great to watch - but he's not God."

Pope Francis is known to be a football fan, and he is also a club member of Buenos Aires side San Lorenzo.

Two goals from Messi gave Barcelona victory in the Catalan derby over Espanyol on Sunday, taking the Liga leaders another step closer to the title.