RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Pope Francis urged young Catholics in Brazil to become "athletes of Christ" on Saturday, telling them Jesus offers something "bigger than the World Cup" in the country hosting the 2014 tournament.
The Argentine pontiff, a fan of the sport, used a soccer metaphor in this nation that won the World Cup five times to pursue his effort to re-energize Catholic faith during a week-long visit to Rio de Janeiro.
"Here in Brazil, as in other countries, soccer is a national passion," the pope told more than two million young Roman Catholics assembled on the beach of Copacabana to hear him on the second to last day of the week-long World Youth Day event.
"Now, what do players do when they are asked to join a team? They have to train, and to train a lot. The same is true of our lives as the Lord's disciples," said the fan of Buenos Aires club San Lorenzo.
"Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup," the 76-year-old pontiff said.
"He offers us the possibility of a fulfilled and fruitful life; he also offers us a future with him, an endless future, eternal life. But he asks us to pay for our ticket, and our ticket is to train, be in shape, so that we can face every situation in life undaunted, bearing witness to our faith." He went on: "You are the athletes of Christ."