Coming to Rome … holy hoopsters!

A basketball game is played in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in the presence of Pope Pius XII in 1955. (CNS photo/Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity)Priests and seminarians studying at Rome’s pontifical universities and institutions are warming up for season two of the Clericus Cup, which kicks off in a couple days. The immensely popular soccer series was established late last year by the Catholic Italian Sports Center and was based on a brainstorm idea by the Vatican’s “numero uno” soccer fan, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

But first some new news: seminarians are also going to get a chance to fine tune their shooting skills — swishing nets, that is. A new basketball tournament is going to be unveiled soon (though it won’t be played in St. Peter’s Square like the game shown here in 1955). An Italian Sports Center representative recently confirmed a rumor I had heard that the seminarians were expanding their priestly sports series to include hoops. He said the new basketball tournament was expected to be announced in February. So heads up: priests can jump!

Photo courtesy of the Italian Sports Center

Now, rebound back to soccer: An all-new lineup is in store featuring 16 teams with players from 50 different nations. The new season will open on Tuesday as players from the Legionaries of Christ’s Mater Ecclesiae go head to head against players from Rome’s major seminary.

The North American College team (check out this video on YouTube), which showed surprisingly strong performances during the first season, is due to vie again for the coveted Clericus Cup. The 2007 trophy was nabbed by undefeated champions Redemtoris Mater — the Neocatechumenal Way’s Rome seminary.

A few of the technical differences between Clericus Cup games and 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 blue card, which requires an overly aggressive player to leave the field for five minutes … presumably to pray for more patience.

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