Special needs rugby team given audience with Pope Francis
PUBLISHED: 16:22 02 March 2019
A special needs rugby team was given "the trip of a lifetime" when it met Pope Francis while on a tour of Italy, thanks to a local charity.
The Barnhall Buffaloes from Kildare, Dublin travelled to Rome on Tuesday (February 28) and were given a memorable welcome when local rugby charity, Wooden Spoon, organised a squad meeting with Pope Francis.
Eastern Counties Chairman Seamus Farrelly said he was keen to organise the papal audience at The Vatican in Rome and that fund raising for the trip had begun in September 2018.
The Norwich rugby fan said: “The anticipation the day we went in for the audience was incredible. The team was thrilled and it was a very emotional experience for many of them.”
The squad received a blessing and presented the Pope with a handmade wooden rugby ball with a Papal cap, plus a rugby ball signed by the team.
Mr Farrelly said Pope Francis, who is known to be a keen rugby fan, was thrilled with the gifts and spent time chatting with the team about their upcoming game in the city.
Following the meeting the 17 players and their mentors travelled to Artena RFC south of Rome to face rivals from Naples, Partenope RFC.
The final score favoured the Buffaloes, but Mr Farrelly said both sides made a fantastic effort.
He added: “It was a very entertaining game with lots of action, loads of effort and bucket loads of camaraderie.”
Following the match both sides were guests at the rugby museum in Artena where a banquet was held in their honour courtesy of museum curator, Mr. Corrado Mattoccia.
The Mayor of Rome, Virginia Elena Raggi, welcomed the teams and the players were presented with commemorative shirts and plaques.
Mr Farrelly said the players and their loved ones were “still on a high” days after the trip and although everyone was tired following the packed tour, it was an experience of a lifetime.
Rugby charity Wooden Spoon has been funding projects for children and young people with disabilities since 1983, distributing more than £26 million to more than 700 projects across the UK.