Going to bat for peace

VATICAN CITY — With all the bad news coming out of the Middle East, this story shone a small beam of hope: the might of bats and balls against the thunder of missiles and misunderstandings.

A player from a team of priests and seminarians returns a ball during a cricket training session in Rome Oct. 22, 2013. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

A player from a team of priests and seminarians returns a ball during a cricket training session in Rome Oct. 22, 2013. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

In support of sport as a weapon for peace, a Muslim governor in Pakistan has donated funding, cricket bats and a national class cricketer to help coach the Vatican’s new St. Peter’s Cricket Club.

Ishrat ul Ebad Khan, the governor of Sindh province in Pakistan made the gift to “our friends in the Vatican as a token of friendship,” according to this article in today’s Daily Mail.

The “Vatican XI” cricket team of Catholic priests and seminarians studying in Rome was started last year, and is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The team will be heading off on a “Tour of Light” series of charity matches in England in mid-September, which will include matches against the Royal Household team at Windsor Castle and a team representing the Anglican Communion at Canterbury.

Governor Ebad said he’d like to see a “tri-team contest” between the St. Peter’s team, the Anglicans and a “Governor of Sindh XI” team comprised of Islamic theology students, as a way to show friendship and harmony through sports.

Proceeds from all the “Vatican XI” matches go to the Global Freedom Network, a new interfaith initiative between Muslims, Anglicans and the Vatican dedicated to fighting human trafficking.

SkySports just aired a nice profile of the St. Peter’s Cricket Club in this mini-documentary:

Lessons from a #WorldCup friendly

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON — Walking around the grounds of FedEx Field, I came to realize why sportscasters deemed the June 7 match between the Spanish national team and El Salvador a “friendly.”

Surrounded by fans sporting T-shirts, flags, and even instruments representing the colors of their favorite teams, I was amazed to see how many Salvadoran fans eagerly invited individuals sporting Spain’s red and yellow paraphernalia to chat about the upcoming game or share some prepared food.

Having grown up in a household that became visibly depressed and bitter after a favorite team lost a championship game, I could not understand what I was seeing. Why were fans of opposing camps becoming friends before one of the most publicized matches on the Road to Brazil? Although El Salvador is no longer eligible to play in the World Cup, didn’t these fans realize that they were associating with the enemy, the defending World Cup champions?

As I talked with many of the fans from both camps, I began to realize that the World Cup represents a chance to bond with people of all nations over a common love for the game of soccer.

Daniel Garcia-Donoso, assistant professor of Spanish at The Catholic University of America, explained how he is able to experience the same camaraderie that is maintained within his home country of Spain when he attends games like this.

“I am far away from my country, from Spain,” said Garcia. “I wear this jersey once or twice a year when watching the Spanish team, and I feel part of a community. I see other people wearing shirts from Spain or shirts from El Salvador, and we all form a community when we watch the game.”

Another Spanish fan, Daniel Lledo, shared similar sentiments.

“In a game like this, to be playing against El Salvador, our brothers from across the pond, it’s a friendly,” said Lledo. “Everyone is here to have fun and enjoy the game together.”

Salvadoran soccer fans gather outside Washington for a friendly with Spain before the World Cup. (CNS/TylerOrsburn)

Salvadoran soccer fans gather outside Washington for a friendly with Spain before the World Cup. (CNS/TylerOrsburn)

In Argentina, a different kind of Francis bump

By David Agren

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The San Lorenzo soccer club stumbled toward the final of its Argentine season in December. It drew its final match, but the other clubs finished in such a way that San Lorenzo won its 12th first-division soccer title.

Some fans found the outcome improbable and credited a figure far from the field: Pope Francis, whose election has coincided with the climbing fortunes of his favorite soccer franchise, Club Atletico San Lorenzo de Almagro.

Pope Francis holds a jersey of Argentine soccer team San Lorenzo during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 18. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis holds a San Lorenzo jersey during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 18. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

“It was a miracle from Francisco,” said Juan Carlos Pais, a lifelong fan from suburban Buenos Aires.

San Lorenzo has lived misery and miracles since being founded in 1908, at least according to fans, who speak painfully of losing their stadium in the 1970s during the military dictatorship. The club is one of the five giants of Argentine soccer and has won more titles than most.

But the election of Pope Francis has allowed San Lorenzo to stand out among Argentine teams and move somewhat out of the shadow of the better-known clubs River Plate and Boca Juniors. It now attracts international interest, and fans feel as if the pontiff intervenes on their behalf.

“The fan base believes that Francis brings luck,” said sports writer Pablo Calvo, author of the book, “Dios es Cuervo,” on San Lorenzo and its origins. “They became champions with his arrival.”

The club makes no secret of its unofficial affiliation with Pope Francis — to the point it put the pontiff’s picture on special edition jerseys shortly after his March 13, 2013, election. Putting religious images on jerseys is a no-no, Calvo says, but the club currently has a halo hanging over the logo on its red-and-blue striped kit.

Pope Francis, who used to listen to matches via the radio, has made no secret of his affection for San Lorenzo. He even played basketball with the San Lorenzo team in his youth.

In December, the pope welcomed club directors and players to the Vatican, where they presented him a jersey and brought the championship trophy.

San Lorenzo put the pope's name on its jersey. (CNS photo/Reuters)

San Lorenzo put the pope’s name on its jersey. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Religion runs through the history of San Lorenzo, even though its fans are from all faiths. The club traces its origins to a parish priest, Father Lorenzo Massa, who provided kids with a place to play soccer. The team is known as “the Crows,” a nickname for priests in Argentina.

Actor Viggo Mortenson, another San Lorenzo fan, funded construction of a chapel, named for Father Massa, near the team’s stadium, the El Nuevo Gasometro.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis celebrated services at the chapel. He also celebrated Mass for the 100th anniversary of San Lorenzo in 2008, after which he bought a membership in the member-owned and operated team.

“It’s an Argentine version of the Green Bay Packers,” says pollster Sergio Berensztein, director of Poliarquia Consultores in Buenos Aires.

Priests, seminarians in Rome lace up to hit the field

U.S. seminarians celebrate after winning Clericus Cup tournament in Rome

Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College celebrating after winning the Clericus Cup championship in 2013 for the second straight year. (CNS photo/Christopher Brashears, PNAC Photo Service)

VATICAN CITY — Seminarians at the Pontifical North American College will be vying for the Clericus Cup “triple crown,” well, “saturno” to be exact, since that’s what the trophy ball is wearing on its head (with a pair of cleats).

cup

The Clericus Cup trophy (photo courtesy of Centro Sportivo Italiano)

SEMINARIANS FROM PONTIFICAL NORTH AMERICAN COLLEGE CHEER THEIR SOCCER TEAM DURING CLERICUS CUP

Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College cheering from the stands in 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The PNAC Martyrs have become a soccer powerhouse after years of hard work and training.

It also helps having the most colorful and “heroic” fan base in the whole tournament with Captain America, Spiderman and a giant fuzzy yellow chicken cheering from the stands.

The news about this year’s soccer tourney, which features priests and seminarians from all  over the world who are studying in Rome, is each team jersey will have “My captain is Pope Francis” printed on it.

Fr. Alessio Albertini, one of the series’ organizers said:

“The job of a captain is to lead the team, to be a point of reference during difficult moments, to encourage the disheartened players, to be a symbol and who better embodies this in the great playing field of the world than Pope Francis?”

The series started eight years ago and boasts a few technical differences from regular league soccer.

Aside from players and fans having lots more spirit, Clericus Cup soccer games run 30-minute halves instead of 45-minute halves.

Referees also have another penalty option. In addition to the yellow warning card and the red expulsion card, they can flash a “sin bin” blue card, which requires an overly aggressive player to leave the field for five minutes … presumably to pray for more patience.

For soccer-loving pope, goalies are great, but Jesus still makes the best saves

Pope Francis receives a jersey from Juventus' soccer goalkeeper and coach during a private audience at Vatican

Pope Francis receiving a jersey from Juventus’ goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon at the Vatican May 21. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — With the World Cup just months away, time is running out for interested nations to get Pope Francis to support their team.

Who knows what kind of added boost a papal cheerleader can give players on the field? After all, was it is really coincidence or was it the “Francis bump” that powered his favorite San Lorenzo squad to nab the Argentine league title a few months ago?

It seems the soccer-loving pontiff is aware national teams might be trying to curry favor with him right now.

When President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil — host country of this summer’s games, showered the pope last week with some soccer swag autographed by legends Pele and Ronaldo, the pope — in jest — asked whether the gifts were an invitation for him to put his prayers behind Brazil to win the World Cup.

President Rousseff insisted no one was asking for any favoritism, just some assurance of “neutrality,” according to a Vatican statement.

Argentina hasn’t been shy, however, about counting on the pope for his full backing.

One of the country’s sports’ channels, TyC Sports, put out a very creative ad a while ago for the upcoming FIFA championship.

By cleverly editing the pope’s winning speech “to go forward” to millions of young people in Brazil together with images of Argentina’s national squad scoring goals, the ad asks: “If one Argentine did this in Brazil…imagine 23,” the number of men on the national team.

 

Disclaimer: Obviously the pope’s words were taken out of context. Just so you know what he was really saying in that talk on Rio’s Copacabana beach July 27 was urging everyone to be “true athletes of Christ” and train hard to follow Jesus:

Jesus asks us to follow him for life, he asks us to be his disciples, to “play on his team.” Most of you love sports! Here in Brazil, as in other countries, football is a national passion. Right? Now, what do players do when they are asked to join a team? They have to train, and to train a lot! The same is true of our lives as the Lord’s disciples…

Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup! Something bigger than the World Cup! Jesus offers us the possibility of a fruitful life, a life of happiness; he also offers us a future with him, an endless future, in eternal life. That is what Jesus offers us.

But he asks us to pay admission, and the cost of admission is that we train ourselves “to get in shape,” so that we can face every situation in life undaunted, bearing witness to our faith, by talking with him in prayer.

– Pope Francis

prayer vigil with young people Rio de Janeiro July 27, 2013

Ain’t no mountain high enough for U.S. priest

VATICAN CITY — When the Vatican press hall announces papal appointments, we’re usually presented with a rather dry encyclopedic biography of the new appointees: where they went to school, what they studied, ordination date, and teaching and ministry positions held over the years.

But thanks to Catholic radio host Lino Rulli (aka The Catholic Guy), we have a really fun and insightful look at the man who will be the new auxiliary bishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis —  Father Andrew Cozzens.

The now 45-year-old priest from Stamford, Conn., took Lino (a Minnesota native) rock climbing a few years ago.

Somebody filmed the escapade and, aside from seeing Lino freak out, we see Father Andrew use rock climbing as a way to talk about faith:

“This is the beauty about rock climbing, it teaches trust. Trust is such an important thing in our relationship with God.”

Check out this leap of faith:

 

Filipino boxer’s mom blames losses on leaving Catholicism

By David Agren

Almost as soon as Filipino boxing phenom Manny Pacquiao hit the mat — knocked out Dec. 8 by Mexican opponent Juan Manuel Marquez — experts, heartbroken fans in the Philippines and the former champion’s own mother offered explanations for his unexpected defeat.

Boxing observers suggested it was a question of in-ring style, saying that Pacquiao didn’t match up well with Marquez, who had lost twice and fought to a draw in three previous encounters with the Pacquiao. Some fans in the Philippines suggested Pacquiao had become a part-time pugilist, having been elected to political office. His mother found another explanation: faith.

The Inquirer Global Nation website highlighted an interview with Pacquiao’s mother, Mommy Dionisia, in which she said, “That’s what he gets for changing his religion.

“Since the ‘Protestant’ pastors came into his life, he has not focus on his boxing.”

The article went on to say: “She does not approve of Pacquiao leaving the Catholic Church. She wants him to quit and become a Catholic again. Many have noticed that in the last two fights which ended in defeat, Pacquiao did not enter the ring with a rosary around his neck as he did before.”

It ended by positing, “The 33 year-old Manny Pacquiao’s loss to Manuel Marquez is not about religion. He lost because he became a part-time boxer while the 39-year-old Marquez remains as full time professional boxer.”

Sold out: In Dublin, a Navy-Notre Dame rivalry

By Cian Molloy

DUBLIN — A sudden influx of American visitors has alerted Ireland that it is home to the annual Navy-Notre Dame football match Sept. 1.

Navy and Notre Dame first played in Dublin in 1996. They meet again Sept. 1, this time at Aviva Stadium. (CNS photo/Courtesy University of Notre Dame Athletic Department)

Billed as the Emerald Isle Classic, the game takes place in Aviva Stadium, home to Ireland’s national rugby and soccer teams. The stadium, opened in 2010, is Ireland’s second-largest sporting arena, but it was promoted in the U.S. as “an intimate venue” because its 51,700 capacity is smaller than many of the stateside stadiums where these two college teams have met.

In fact, each locker room has only 28 lockers — far fewer than the more than the number of players on the team’s travel roster.

The game has been sold out since March. More than 35,000 fans are traveling across the Atlantic for the game, making it the largest ever American audience at an overseas sporting event — topping even the U.S. attendance at Olympic matches. The 15,000 not coming from the U.S. include many groups of Notre Dame alumni from mainland Europe.

Notre Dame leads the rivalry with a 72-12-1 record. The two teams first met in Dublin in 1996.

On game day, some 5,000 Notre Dame fans will attend Mass in Dublin Castle, and the Notre Dame pre-match tailgate takes place in Temple Bar, dubbed Ireland’s Cultural Quarter. Navy fans will make their presence felt on the streets of Dublin when 1,000 midshipmen march from the USS Fort McHenry in Dublin Port to Aviva Stadium.

Whoever wins the game, the Irish will come out winners: The game and surrounding events are anticipated to bring $100 million to the Irish economy!

‘Behind every successful man …’

By Daniel Linskey

Catholic officials at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Gouyave, Grenada, honored the family of Olympic gold medalist Kirani James.

A parishioner presents flowers to Annie James, mother of Olympic gold medalist Kirani James, while his sister, Akira, and father, Doranni, look on. (CNS photo/Diocese of St. George’s in Grenada.)

James, 19, won the 400-meter race in 43.94 seconds Aug. 6, beating the Dominican Republic’s Luguelin Santos by more than half a second.

At the end of a simple Mass, parishioners and Father Sean Doggett, a member of the St. Patrick Missionary Society, presented flowers and a plaque to Kirani’s mother, Annie James, on behalf of Bishop Vincent M. Darius and the Catholic community of Grenada.

“We are proud of your son and we are proud of you,” said the plaque.

Before the presentation, Father Doggett said, “Behind every successful man is a woman, and the woman behind this young man of whom we are all so proud is his mother.”

Kirani James’ medal was Grenada’s first in any Olympics.

Afterward, the athlete told the New York Times, “I think there are quite a few street parties going on … I just go out there and just try to do my best in terms of representing my country in a positive way. As long as I do that, they are going to be proud of me, and as long as they are proud of me I’m happy with that.

Students in action: working for Olympic moment of silence

Students in the Sociology of Sports class at The Catholic University of America have joined a project to try to commemorate the massacre of 11 Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In addition to posting this video on YouTube, in December the students wrote Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, and Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London 2012 Organizing Committee, urging a moment of silence during the opening ceremony July 27. CUA President John Garvey supported the students’ letter in his own letter to the officials, dated May 31.

Members of the sociology of sports class at The Catholic University of America advocate one moment of silence during the opening ceremony of the Olympics to commemorate the Munich Massacre. (CNS photo/courtesy of David Bauman, CUA)

In the letter, the students said although they were not born at the time of the massacre, “We are the Sept. 11 generation … we are confident that we have (an) understanding of the magnitude of the attacks that occurred on Sept. 5, 1972.

In their video, the students ask others to sign a petition for the moment of silence.

“This is not about politics, this is not even about religion,” said one student.”This is about 11 victims who lost their lives by an act of terror.”

In 1972, members of the Palestinian group Black September kidnapped the Israeli team members and demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners. The Israelis, a West German police officer and eight members of Black September were killed. Israel is widely believed to have retaliated against those suspected of involvement, beginning with military operations in 1973.

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