Unusual ‘church’ in Argentina pays homage to football star Maradona

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ROSARIO, Argentina, October 31 – Members of the “Maradonian Church” in Argentina gathered on Saturday to adoringly celebrate the memory of beloved football idol Diego Maradona on the occasion of what would have been his 61st birthday birthday, just a few weeks before the first anniversary of his death.

By chanting “Ma-ra-do… Ma-ra-do…”, these devoted fans of the player n ° 10 gathered in the city of Rosario, seat of an extraordinary fan club which, since the 1990s, worships the World Cup. champion like a god.

The emotional encounter – more than a few tears were shed – was an annual event honoring the man many consider to be the greatest footballer of all time.

But it was the first to take place since November 25, when Maradona, then just 60, suffered a heart attack.

“I think it’s the biggest Maradonian movement in the world,” Alejandro Veron, one of its founders, told AFP. The “church” claims thousands of “faithful” in more than 50 countries.

– Tributes and tears –

New members of the “Maradonian Church” in Argentina reenact football star Diego Maradona’s “hand of God” goal, scored in a World Cup match against England in 1986 © AFP / MARCELO MANERA

Between tributes and tears, fans told and re-told their favorite ‘Golden Boy’ stories and frequently broke into the traditional chants of Argentine fans.

They also staged reenactments of some of Maradona’s most famous goals.

Maradona died recovering in Buenos Aires from brain surgery last November for a subdural hematoma.

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“A lot of people didn’t realize they loved Diego until after November 25,” Veron said.

“But they can also get on the train. There is room for everyone.

– ‘He gave me a hug’ –

A view of the murals on the walls of the “Maradonian Church” in Rosario, Argentina, as the football legend was honored shortly before the first anniversary of his death © AFP / MARCELO MANERA

Veron recalled the day he met the superstar and told him about the “church” founded in his honor.

“He gave me a hug and said thank you,” Veron said, her voice shaking with emotion.

“Diego IS football,” he added, “he is our best ambassador in the world, a voice for those who do not have one.”

The celebration in Rosario was one of many held across Argentina on Saturday in memory of Maradona. Football matches have been staged in his honor, with special tribute being paid in the 10th minute of every professional match.

The main event will be an afternoon match at the Buenos Aires stadium which now bears his name, home of Argentinos Juniors, Maradona’s first club.

Some of the stars of Argentina’s 1978 and 1986 World Cup champions – Maradona played in the latter – are expected to attend.

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