Pope Francis declares that Lionel Messi is not God
Pope Francis has declared that Lionel Messi is not God - and says it is sacrilegious to refer to him as such.
The Barcelona forward is widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, with millions of supporters worshipping him whenever he plays a game.
The Pope is a huge football fan and has followed San Lorenzo since childhood, but he insists that his fellow Argentine should not be treated as the Deity - despite acknowledging his on-field brilliance.
"In theory it is sacrilege [to refer to him as God]. You can't say it, I don't believe. Do you believe you can?" he said in an interview with Salvados (opens in new tab).
After the reporter answered in the affirmative, Pope Francis replied: "I don’t. People can say he is God, just as they may say 'I adore you', but only God can be worshipped.
"Those are expressions from people. 'This is a God with the ball on the field' is a popular way for someone to express themselves.
"Of course, he is very good, but he isn’t God."
Messi has scored 41 goals in 38 appearances for Barcelona this season, and is hoping to lead the Catalan club to glory in both La Liga and the Champions League.
The 31-year-old has already won 19 major trophies at the Camp Nou, but international success has so far eluded him. Perhaps the Pope will change his mind on Messi's status if he helps Argentina win the Copa America in Brazil this summer.
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Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).