Since his election, Pope Francis has been on the front foot, hitting a few sixes, bowling a few googlies and playing the odd reverse sweep.
As an Argentine, the Holy Father probably wouldn’t get the metaphors, but he might do soon as the Vatican is about to form its own cricket club.
Officials at the Pontifical Council for Culture, which has a section dedicated to sport, is setting up the first ever Vatican club and tournament in Rome. The initiative is the idea of Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, an avid cricket fan.
Already one match has been played between two Vatican universities – the Maria Mater Ecclesiae International Pontifical College and the Pontifical Urbaniana University – on a pitch near Rome’s Ciampino airport.
“It was an interesting match,” says Xavarian Father Theodore Mascarenhas, an Indian official at the Pontifical Council for Culture who will chair the new Vatican cricket board. “They played a Twenty-Twenty and Ubaniana won by just one run.”
The plan is to extend other twenty over matches to more Rome colleges and even further afield. “We hope to have at least six teams,” says Father Mascarenhas. The underlying aim of the initiative, he says, is to start “a kind of inter-cultural dialogue”.
Players will be drawn from the many seminaries and pontifical universities in Rome, as well as Vatican officials. Father Mascarenhas believes around 400 cricket fans reside in the Eternal City. They include seminarians from the Venerable English College of course, but also many others, often missionaries, from the Indian sub-continent and Africa, as well as Australia, the West Indies and New Zealand.
The Vatican also has a star player of its own. Father Tony Currer, an official in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, played club cricket for Durham until he moved to Rome last month to oversee dialogue with the Anglican Communion. “I came to Rome thinking I probably wouldn’t play much cricket anymore,” he says, “but it looks like there’s going to be a very good standard.”
Since 2009, Rome colleges have played in a football tournament called the Clericus Cup comprising 16 teams, 15 international seminaries and split into two divisions, A and B. The championship has been a success, attracting widespread media coverage.
But the new “St Peter’s Cricket Club”, run under the patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture, promises to be even larger. Father Mascarenhas says the plan is to start modestly between Rome colleges. But the Vatican and Ambassador McCarthy are especially keen to organise a Holy See versus Church of England match, possibly at Lord’s.
In a novel attempt to bridge religious divides, a further goal is to organise a tournament between the Vatican club and teams from Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu seminaries in such countries as Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Myanmar.
The Australian Cricketers’ Association and the Australian government are supportive, as is Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker. Senior prelates from India and Australia have also given it their backing, most notably Cardinal George Pell of Sydney. Father Mascarenhas also hopes to establish ties with “Cricket Italy”, a successful cricket federation run by a Sri Lankan which plays against “second level” national sides such as South Korea and Argentina.
“We have a lot of a support,” says Father Mascarenhas. “Things are getting off the block.”
The Pontifical Council will officially launch the initiative at a press conference Oct. 15, along with a Festive Day of Sport to be held on Oct. 20. The day, which aims to underline the educational, cultural and spiritual values of sport, is expected to attract 5000 people who will take part in a 100m run on a track stretching from the end of the Via della Conciliazione to St Peter’s Square.
The Vatican cricket tournament is expected to get underway in the next month or two.