In cultures where soccer is almost a religion, it doesn’t take a leap of faith to join Argentina’s Church of Maradona, which has elevated Diego Maradona from soccer legend to higher power.
Over two decades, church followers have spread to Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Italy and beyond, one founder said, and they now number in the tens of thousands. Mr. Maradona’s death in November from cardiac arrest was a blow to fans, especially those who deemed the soccer idol worthy of worship.
“We talked, we cried, we told stories,” said Iván Rodríguez, a 31-year-old in Buenos Aires who represents the church in the Argentine capital. “You feel more united with people who have the same devotion for Diego.”
He and other followers say they plan to carry on church traditions and hand them down to their children and grandchildren.
Three friends in Argentina’s port city of Rosario founded the Church of Maradona in 1998, believing the god of soccer deserved more than just a fan club. The church drew criticism in the traditionally Catholic nation, home to Pope Francis. Some people called it satanic; others, a pagan cult.