BY LUKE COPPEN
BRAZILIAN striker Ronaldo has attributed his astonishing journey from injury to World Cup success to the intercession of the Virgin Mary.
The 25-year-old football player, who scored both goals in Brazil's World Cup final victory over Germany last Sunday, prayed to Our Lady during an agonising 18-month lay off after a career-threatening knee injury. His prayers appeared to be answered when he received a call-up to play in Brazil's World Cup squad.
In May, the striker made a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine in Brazil to offer thanks for his recovery. He travelled by helicopter from his home city of Rio de Janeiro to the Sanctuary of Our Lady some 167km north of Sao Paulo. "I thanked the Virgin for the cure and the call-up," the player said later.
After the final whistle on Sunday, Ronaldo knelt down with his teammates for a prayer of thanksgiving. Some of the Brazil players took off their canary yellow tops to reveal T-shirts bearing the slogan "I belong to Jesus". Ronaldo's performance in the World Cup final earned him the coveted golden boot award as the championship's top scorer and took Brazil to a record fifth World Cup victory.
Ronaldo's tears of joy on Sunday contrasted sharply with his downcast expression when Brazil lost the World Cup final in France four years ago. The striker suffered a nervous seizure on the eve of the game and played, in the words of one commentator, like "a virtual zombie".
The next three years were a deep test of Ronaldo's profound Catholic faith. In November 1999, he snapped a rotula tendon during a game for his club team Inter Milan. It was then that at the urging of his mother, Sonia Nazario De Lima, the Brazilian began to pray to the Virgin Mary for a cure.
A year before the injury, Ronaldo made a pilgrimage to Rome to visit Pope John Paul II.
At first the Pontiff didn't recognise the Brazilian star, who at the age of 21 was already the world's most famous footballer. The Pope was not even sure what sport Ronaldo played. Wearing-a blue suit and an open shirt, Ronald() knelt and kissed the Pope's hand and, rummaging in a bag, pulled out one of the number 10 shirts he wore for his country and another he wore for Inter Milan. The Pope's eyes lit up and he exclaimed "Ah, calcio, calcio! [football, football !]," before embracing the star.
Ronaldo, who believes that his footballing talent is a gift from God, has not always had an easy relationship with his fellow Catholics. He upset many Brazilians a few years ago when he appeared in an advert for the tyre company Pirelli standing above Rio de Janeiro with his arms outstretched like the statue of Christ the Redeemer.