Football-mad Pope Francis gets philosophical on rugby

Football-mad Pope Francis is also a fan of the rugby scrum: the pontiff joked with Italian and Argentine players and met the heads of FIFA and the IOC on Friday as the Vatican builds new ties with the sporting world.

After the players presented a grinning pontiff with their jerseys, he said the game was a metaphor for life.

"Playing rugby is hard, it's no walk in the park! And I think that makes it useful to toughen the spirit, the will," he said, praising its "loyalty and respect".

"There are the famous 'scrums', which are sometimes hard to watch! And then there are the individual manoeuvres, races towards the goal," he added.

Rugby "makes us think of life, because our whole life we are heading for a goal. We need to run together, pass the ball from hand to hand, until we get to it".

Since his election in March, the sprightly 76-year-old -- a former basketball player in his youth -- has pushed for sports to take a more prominent place in the Church, championing team games as good for mind, body and soul and calling for more "spiritual athletes".

The Argentine pontiff -- a keen support of the San Lorenzo football club from his native Buenos Aires -- is still sticking to his favourite sport however and also on Friday he met with FIFA boss Sepp Blatter.

"It was really a meeting between two sportsmen - or at least two football fans," Blatter said afterwards.

The Vatican is increasing its ties with the world of sport in what one official defined as "new ways of bringing the Gospel" and it is also seeking to draw parallels between sporting values and spiritual ones.

The Vatican now has its own cricket team and last month it even organised a 100-metre sprint along the main avenue leading to St Peter's Square.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's "culture minister", has pointed to parallels between sports and faith.

"Sport is fundamental for humanity. Sport and spirituality are kin," he said at the launch of the cricket team.

In a symbol of sport's peacemaking potential, an olive tree presented to the pope by the Italian and Argentine teams will be planted at the Rome stadium where the teams will play Saturday, before being moved to the Vatican gardens.

Blatter, who presented the pontiff with a special Latin edition of the association's magazine, said they spoke about "striving for a better world."

"The pope calls for football to help do something for the poor," he said, adding that the pontiff was particularly keen FIFA do something to help those living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro during the Football World Cup in 2014.

Blatter said he promised to "do what we can."

FIFA has already begun tackling the cultural gap between fans in the stands and the often musty world of the Church: translators for the Latin issue had to invent suitable equivalents for "penalty", "corner kick" and "centre-forward."

Learning that "the Latin game of football is 'pendiludum'" may help up the Vatican's game.

The City's players are largely drawn from the Swiss Guard but three international matches in 11 years have ended in one draw and two defeats.