Recently there was a front page story on a local newspaper, El Argentino:
"Messi cree en Dios." (Messi believes in God)
Messi is the top Argentine soccer player (I would argue of ALL time, but fans of others would beg to differ!) Messi plays for Barcelona, and has been awarded the FIFA World Player of the Year for the past two years (with two other second place wins.)
ANYWAY, I thought the article sounded interesting, so I flipped to the page where the full story was listed. Here's what it said, "Messi still believes that Maradona was a much better footballer than he will ever be..."
I was saddened to read the article. On one hand, I was blessed by the fact that one of the greatest players in the world is so humble. On the other hand, however, I am heartbroken for the fact that people of Argentina consider a man, Maradona, to be God.
For those of you alive in 1986, Diego Maradona was responsible for the infamous "Hand of God" goal that allowed Argentina to beat England. The referees missed the handling, but everyone else in the world could see it. Maradona, for decades, argued that he never handled it: if someone handled the ball, he argued, it must have been God. Maradona has had countless problems since, from alcohol to drugs.
However, he is still considered a role-model by most Argentines. His jerseys are seen everywhere. In fact, here is a picture on a building not far from our home
Despite all of his problems, many Argentines would love for their children to be just like Diego. Here is something written by the Houston Chronicle:
"To understand the gargantuan shadow Maradona casts over his soccer-mad homeland, one has to conjure up the athleticism of Michael Jordan, the power of Babe Ruth – and the human fallibility of Mike Tyson. Lump them together in a single barrel-chested man with shaggy black hair and you have El Diego, idol to the millions who call him D10S, a mashup of his playing number and the Spanish word for God."
In fact, many people here call Diego "Dios." He IS God to many of the Argentine people. There is even a CHURCH OF MARADONA! In Rosario, Argentina, locals organized the parody religion of the "Church of Maradona". The organization reformulates many elements from Christian tradition, such as Christmas or prayers, reflecting instead details from Maradona. It had 200 founding members, tens of thousands more have become members via the church's official web site. (Wikipedia)
Welcome to Argentina. The people here jokingly say that they go to church each week; it just happens to be a soccer stadium! They sing songs of praise and worship, they boo "the devil" (the other team's players or the referee), they sing about victory and triumph, sadness and pain. There is laughter, joy, sadness, and lament.
While I love juego hermoso (or juega bonitazi for my Portuguese friends), I don't live and die by the game. I am a fan (hincha), not a worshiper. I love watching the beautiful game, but it isn't a religion.
My prayer is that all Argentines will believe in God, that they can come to know him more and more. The true God, not the gods that men make for themselves or make out of themselves. May they come to know him more fully, wonderfully, and beautifully.
God bless each of you!