BRENDAN RODGERS and his Celtic players were given words of consolation after their 2-0 loss to Lazio in Rome from a very special person this morning.

Pope Francis met the manager, chairman Peter Lawwell, the club’s directors and entire playing squad at the Vatican in the aftermath of the Parkhead side’s disappointing exit from Europe for another season.

The Parkhead delegation headed to St. Peter’s Basilica for a private audience before their return flight to Glasgow and presented the Pontiff with a signed Celtic shirt.

The 86-year-old head of the Catholic Church, who apologised for suffering from a cold which threatened the scheduled visit, 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.

PRESENTATION…Brendan Rodgers gifts Pope Francis with a signed Celtic shirt.

“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.

“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.”

The report on the Celtic website continued: “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.


SPECIAL MEETING…Pope Francis with Celtic chairman Peter Lawwell.

“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!”

Celtic’s hope of European football beyond Christmas ended at the Stadio Olimpico when they collapsed to another late defeat.

They lost 2-1 to the Italians in Glasgow when Pedro netted the winner in the seventh minute of stoppage-time and it took a quickfire double from Ciro Immobile to finish them off in Rome.

It was scoreless until the 82nd minute before the roof fell in and rendered the final Group E encounter against Feyenoord at Parkhead a fortnight today meaningless.


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