Villanova coach Jay Wright meets with Pope Francis, presents him with an autographed basketball

Pope Francis is presented a basketball autographed by the National Champion Villanova University Wildcats by head coach Jay Wright.

Pope Francis specializes in blessings. Villanova University men’s basketball coach Jay Wright leads a team counting its blessings.

And while it’s not clear whether the pope favored the Wildcats in the just-wrapped NCAA tournament — or whether he followed college basketball’s winter extravaganza at all — Wright delivered a big thank-you to the Holy Father on Saturday.

He presented Francis with a basketball signed by members of Villanova’s national championship team.

After earlier this month leading the Wildcats to their second national championship in three years, Wright this weekend was in Rome with Villanova’s president, the Rev. Peter Donohue, and university trustees for their spring board meeting. Their visit to the Eternal City included a trip to the Vatican and a special audience with the pope, who, in brief remarks to the delegation in Clementine Hall, referred to the school’s Augustinian roots and spoke of its obligation to “address the complex ethical and cultural challenges raised by the epochal changes affecting our world today.”

One “urgent” aspect of its educational task, Francis said, “is the development of a universal, Catholic vision of the unity of our human family and a commitment to the practical solidarity needed to combat the grave inequalities and injustices that mark today’s world.”

He said he hopes “Villanova University will persevere in its efforts to communicate the intellectual, spiritual and moral values that will enable young people to participate wisely and responsibly in the great debates shaping the future of our society.”

The pope’s full remarks can be read here.

Before the gathering ended, Wright and Father Donohue approached the Holy Father with an orange-and-white basketball autographed by the Wildcats.

Pictures of the exchange from Vatican Media show Francis smiling widely, his eyes joyful — even if roundball isn’t his favorite sport. The pope is a devoted soccer fan, a card-carrying associate member of his favorite team, San Lorenzo de Almagro in his native Argentina.

On Twitter, Mark Alexander, dean of the Charles Widger School of Law at Villanova, called the audience with Francis “an emotional blessed experience.”

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