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Facebook campaign wins German boy soccer gravestone

BERLIN (Reuters) - A church in Germany has bowed to public pressure and allowed the parents of a soccer-mad nine-year old boy who died from a brain tumor to erect a gravestone with a ball beside it after a Facebook campaign spawned more than 100,000 angry messages.

The dispute between the boy's parents and a Catholic church in the western city of Dortmund made national headlines.

Newspapers printed poignant pictures of the dying boy in hospital last Christmas with Juergen Klopp, coach of his favorite club Borussia Dortmund.

Shortly before his death, Jens Pascal had told his mother he wanted a gravestone that reflected his passion - the club which won Germany's Bundesliga just days before he died in May.

"Mummy, when I die, I would like a gravestone with the club logo," Pascal's mother, Nicole Schmidt, told Bild daily.

But the Church of Maria Heimsuchung in Dortmund refused to erect a stone engraved with the club's logo and a soccer ball on top, arguing that it did not conform to rules which ban non-Christian inscriptions and images.

Soccer fans from Dortmund and other prominent German clubs took to the Internet and bombarded a Facebook page "The Last Wish of Jens Pascal" with messages expressing anger and disbelief at the church.

"It is outrageous," read one. "I ask the Church not to be led by regulations, show us your heart!" said another.

"It doesn't matter if you're a fan of Bayern, Gladbach or wherever. In this case we stand together and will only stop when this child's last wish is granted!" said another.

The campaign worked.

The church issued a statement late on Monday saying it had agreed a compromise under which the gravestone could be erected, but with the sculpture of a ball on the ground rather than on its top. It will also bear a Christian symbol, probably a dove.

"It was never the intention of the church to stand in the way of the little boy's last wish," it said. "It was about reconciling the interests of the Church community, the cemetery rules and the interests of the parents of the child who died."

The top entry on the Jens Pascal Facebook page thanked the 140,792 people who had helped the boy get what he wanted. "Now he will get his stone, even if it is a bit different than planned, he will get it and can at last rest in peace."

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, editing by Paul Casciato)

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