An exclusive look at the new partnership between Los Angeles and Pope Francis
By LA Stories Staff Los Angeles
PUBLISHED 5:00 AM PT Dec. 18, 2023
Elected to serve as the Holy Father in 2013, Pope Francis has become a global figure known for his humility, compassion and commitment to social justice.
He advocates for greater inclusivity for marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ+ community. But above all, Pope Francis is known for his admiration and respect for young people. He was deeply moved when a boy from Mozambique gifted him a ball of rags — or Pelota de Trapo — something he, too, played with as a young boy.
“He realized that it was important for the world to know… we have to give the kids and the youth the right to play,” said Martha Barrenche, who works with the Pope’s foundation, Scholas Occurrentes. “Seeing how that access can open so many doors, that is our number one priority.”
In a special episode of “LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez,” Pope Francis delivers an exclusive message to the people of Los Angeles, as the city was chosen to launch his Pelota de Trapo program in the U.S. Key stakeholders from Los Angeles were given rare access to the Pope as they joined forces to kick off the sports leadership program as part of his Scholas Occurrentes foundation.
Through the power of sports, the goal is to engage hundreds of students from different faiths and backgrounds to teach leadership and community through sports.
The program was officially launched this year in partnership with the LA84 Foundation and the County Board of Supervisors.
“When the Pope talks about living like you play and bringing those elements of your best self to serve humanity, it seems like a win-win partnership for sure,” said Renata Simril, president and CEO of the LA84 Foundation, “That’s the work that we’ve been doing for 40 years is leveling the playing field and making sure that regardless of where you come from, that there’s not a barrier to sports because of where you live, what you look like or the situation that your family might be in from an economic perspective.”
Talei Fernandez, daughter of Giselle Fernandez, was chosen to be the campaign’s U.S. Ambassador and joined thousands of young people on World Youth Day in Portugal this summer.
There, the youth participated in workshops and gatherings to celebrate faith. In a special meeting with the Pope on behalf of Los Angeles and the United States, Talei delivered a ball of rags for the pontiff to sign — a symbol of the launch of the Pelota de Trapo program in America. It was Supervisor Lindsey Horvath and the county board of supervisors who used the ball to declare Pelota de Trapo Day in Los Angeles, in an effort to unite our youth through sports.
“In this time of great division, what a beautiful symbol this ball is, bringing our young people together from all walks of life to build community together,” Supervisor Horvath said. “Those kinds of relationships can last a lifetime, and that can change what our future looks like.”