Pope Francis released a video shortly ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl, the annual American football championship game, saying the game is an opportunity to show solidarity and build virtue.

“Great sporting events like today’s (Sunday) Super Bowl are highly symbolic, showing that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace,” the Pope said in his message from the Vatican City.

“By participating in sports, we are able to go beyond our own self-interest and – in a healthy way – we learn to sacrifice, to grow in fidelity and respect the rules,” the Catholic News Agency cited the pontiff as speaking in his native language, Spanish.

He voiced hope that this year’s Super Bowl may be “a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity to the world”.

Pope Francis, a self-proclaimed football lover, has often spoken of sports as a privileged place to learn virtue and practice fraternity, the Catholic News Agency said.

In addition to autographing jerseys and making frequent references to his favourite football team, the San Lorenzo team of Argentina, Pope Francis has also organized two editions of a “Match for Peace” in Rome that saw veteran Argentine players like Diego Maradona and Javier Zanetti participate.

The video message, however, marked the first time a Pope has sent a direct message for the Super Bowl, which draws millions of viewers both nationally and abroad.