Pope Francis holds a soccer ball in St. Peter’s Square during the Wednesday general audience on Aug. 26, 2015. L’Osservatore Romano.

Rome Newsroom, Nov 23, 2022 / 03:48 am (CNA).

Pope Francis gave a shoutout to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar at the end of his weekly audience on Wednesday.

Speaking to a crowd of people from around the world Nov. 23, the pope expressed his hope the international soccer competition would foster fraternity and peace.

“I wish to send my greetings to the players, fans and spectators who are following, from various continents, the World Cup, which is being played in Qatar,” he said in St. Peter’s Square.

“May this important event,” he continued, “be an occasion of encounter and harmony among nations, fostering fraternity and peace among peoples.”

Pope Francis added to his appeal for peace, asking for prayers for an end to all conflicts, especially the conflict in Ukraine.

He highlighted the upcoming anniversary, Nov. 26, of Holodomor, also known as the Terror-Famine or the Great Famine, a man-made famine that took place in Soviet Ukraine from 1932 to 1933.

Pope Francis praying at the general audience on St. Peter's Square. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Pope Francis praying at the general audience on St. Peter’s Square. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Francis called Holodomor a “terrible genocide” and an “extermination by starvation,” which was artificially caused by Joseph Stalin.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup is being played in the State of Qatar, an emirate on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18.

The choice of Qatar as host country for the men’s soccer tournament has been criticized due to conditions in the country, including the situation of Christians.

Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, who is the current sports commissioner of the German Bishops’ Conference, said in a statement published Nov. 17 that he did not want to give soccer fans “a bad conscience,” even if people were “asking how it came about that Qatar, of all places, was chosen by FIFA as the host country 12 years ago.”

“Non-Islamic religions, including Christianity, which are strongly represented among migrant workers, are granted freedom only to a limited extent,” the German prelate said.

Oster also said the role of women was “set back” and sexual minorities were prosecuted.