Anglican-Roman Catholic bowling for unity?

VATICAN CITY — In the field of ecumenical dialogue, a key task always has been defining terms. Often, Christians have discovered, their beliefs are not that different, but the language they use is.

“Bowling” in the headline above does not involve an alley and 10 pins.

This is cricket. The game involves a ball and bat. And teams of 11. A field and a “pitch,” which is part of the field, not the act of throwing the ball.

As a group of priests and seminarians representing the Vatican and another representing the Church of England prepare to meet in September, it’s many of the rest of us who have to try to understand their terminology.

Father Tony Currer, the official in charge of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is a “right-hand batsman.” He’ll be traveling back to England with three “right-arm fast bowlers” and seven other seminarians in the name of Christian unity.

The members of St. Peter's Cricket Club, aka the Vatican team.

The members of St. Peter’s Cricket Club, aka the Vatican team.

“A bowler is like a pitcher” in American baseball, he said. “I guess in baseball you would distinguish between left-handed and right-handed pitchers, right? Then some are specialists in bowling quickly or bowling with a spin.”

Before coming to Rome, Father Currer played in the Durham City League, which is an amateur league, though at a level “higher than a parish team” or something like that.

Sometimes Christians complain that ecumenical dialogue has been limited to a small group of experts. Cricket seems mostly limited to residents of the United Kingdom, Australia, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand, the West Indies and South Africa.

The Vatican-Church of England cricket match Sept. 19 at the Kent County Cricket Club will be preceded by ecumenical vespers Sept. 18 in the Anglican’s Canterbury Cathedral. Although initially planned strictly as a challenge, the two sides have now decided the match will be an occasion to raise money together for the Global Freedom Network, an interfaith effort against human trafficking supported both by Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and Pope Francis.

I asked Father Currer if the joint fundraising effort was designed to mitigate the potentially negative ecumenical impact of an Anglican-Roman Catholic showdown.

“Normally I am in the business of finding agreement with the Anglicans, not beating them. That’s not the way forward,” he responded.

The Vatican XI — captained by Father Currer and including seminarians from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — has a total of four matches scheduled for their September “Tour of Light” in England. At a Vatican news conference yesterday, they announced one that’s creating quite a buzz: A Sept. 17 match against the team of the Royal Household of Windsor Castle, one of the residences of Queen Elizabeth II.

Father Currer isn’t sure yet if the match will take place on the castle grounds, but “it is not an unusual thing for a stately home to have a cricket site.”

No word yet on whether there will be royal spectators.

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