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What Christians can learn from the World Cup

Brazil’s huge gulf between rich and poor should shake Christian consciences

By on Monday, 16 June 2014

Rio's Christ the Redeemer Statue glows green to help kickoff World Cup (CNS)

Rio's Christ the Redeemer Statue glows green to help kickoff World Cup (CNS)

The Church of England has kindly provided us with a set of prayers for use over the next few weeks as the World Cup unfolds in Brazil. The Daily Telegraph carries a report with the text of the prayers here. 

The nexus between prayer and football may not seem obvious to many, but it is nevertheless there. Back in 2009 Fifa did its best to try and stop the Brazilian team praying on pitch after matches. I haven’t managed to catch a Brazil game yet, so I am not sure if this actually was made to stick; but I do remember from previous World Cups seeing the Brazilian team forming a circle, linking arms, kneeling down on the grass, and praying after games, and hearing a British commentator saying that the team were “gathering for reflection”. It seems that prayer, in certain circles at least, is not just a frowned on activity, but a dirty word as well.

So, it is good that the Church of England is encouraging football fans to pray, and let us hope that they do not arouse the ire of Fifa, that body well known for its steely integrity and honesty.

As well as the necessity of prayer, there are two other things that Christians may learn from this World Cup, apart from the essential and basic lesson that we are all in the hands of God – all of us, including the England team.

The first is that Brazil itself is torn by conflict over the competition. Many people there are very angry that their government has splashed out huge amounts of cash on a football competition, when so many essential services are neglected. They love their football in Brazil, but this does not blind them to the lamentable misgovernment from which they suffer. Panem et circenses does not cut it with the Brazilian population, for which we should be grateful. Moreover, the entire world can now see just how Brazil, a rich country with a growing economy, is nevertheless full of very poor people. The sight of the favelas may just alert Christians and others to the important matter of social and economic justice.

The second thing is not to do with an argument: the second thing is to do with what people will see, whether in person or on their television screens. Brazil is full of wonderful sights, amazing cityscapes, and astonishing natural beauties. And its most famous sight is a statue of Christ the Redeemer, which towers above Rio de Janeiro. Indeed, this statue is a national symbol for the Brazilians, and what a wonderful symbol it is. Many people who never give God a thought may see the statue or an image of it over the next few weeks. It is a memorable statue, simply because what it portrays is so elemental to human experience: the sense of God, like us, who loves us, and stretches His arms wide. Who in the end can resist God’s own Son, and the redemption He offers? May that image stay printed on the retinas of all who watch this World Cup!