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.