An experience which we will never forget
On Wednesday morning a delegation from SK Rapid Vienna travelled to Rome. The party comprised President Michael Krammer, Vice-President Nikolaus Rosenauer, Directors Christoph Peschek and Fredy Bickel, Andy Marek, Harry Gartler, Minister Christoph Pelzcar as well as trainers, staff and players. The invitation had been extended by no less than the Vatican, with Pope Francis himself heading the reception - an extraordinary experience, but one that was a special reward for ongoing work behind the scenes.
As is public knowledge, since its opening the Allianz Stadium has boasted an inter-faith devotional space. This room not only affords a place to pray, but under the auspices of Rapid’s own Minister Christoph Pelzcar and Stadium Manager Harry Gartler, also houses a range of events from weddings to christenings, as well as socially minded initiatives launched by Pelzcar including programmes for disadvantaged children, school classes and much more besides. The project quickly came to the attention of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who in turn took the news of Rapid's efforts to the very top, to the Vatican. And so came the invitation and private audience with the upper echelons of the church, an honour bestowed on very few of the world’s football clubs.
After initially being held up by the dense Roman traffic, Cardinal Schönborn - who had also travelled on the 'Rapid' bus - directly intervened, ensuring that without further ado we duly arrived at the traditional general gathering in the Vatican City, and were directed to sit in the immediate vicinity of the Pope.
In front of tens of thousands in St Peter’s Square, the Pope officially welcomed SK Rapid. Then a special moment unfolded, as for a short while the Pope devoted himself exclusively to the Rapid delegation. Andy Marek proceeded to introduce the club executive and players to the Holy Father, who in return received some very Viennese gifts: President Michael Krammer handed Pope Francis a lifelong honorary SK Rapid club membership, Director Christoph Peschek an original Viennese Sachertorte, and captain Stefan Schwab a replica home shirt with the number 10 on the back. The Pope then exchanged a few words with members of the delegation, who thanked him profusely for his hospitality. Yet another highpoint was to follow in a sea of high points. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn organised a private tour around St. Peter's Basilica, which was yet to open its doors to the public. Awe-struck faces entered the holy halls of St. Peter's, which for a short spell was open and available to the Rapid delegation only.
After exploring the Basilica next on the itinerary was lunch in the heart of the eternal city. Lunch offered a chance to reflect on the day's extraordinary events. "The was an experience that you’ll never forget", beamed an excited Stefan Schwab on behalf of the whole team. Lucas Galvao, who, along with his fellow countryman Joelinton had actually hugged the Pope, said: "As a believer that was a very special honour and indescribable." Christoph Peschek thanked everyone "who had made the audience possible", adding: "As a club which is open and supportive of all religions, being invited here was a massive moment for us." The day had been a truly unique experience for the Rapid Vienna, which will no doubt require some reflection before the momentous occasion can be fully digested and comprehended!
SK Rapid would like to thank all those responsible for this wonderful day in the club's history!