VATICAN CITY — The Vatican served tea and cucumber sandwiches last week as it launched its first cricket club, an initiative aimed at forging ties with teams of other faiths.
No, Pope Francis isn’t taking up the sport long associated with manicured grounds and English nobility; the soccer-mad “slum pope” still prefers the lower-brow sport of his beloved San Lorenzo club.
But he and the Vatican have long championed sports as good for mind, body and soul, and the cricket club is the latest initiative of the Vatican’s culture ministry to use sports to engage in dialogue with the contemporary world.
Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, was the brainchild behind the initiative and said he hopes the St. Peter’s Cricket Club will field a team to play the Church of England at Lord’s next fall.
He said the aim is to boost interfaith dialogue, given cricket’s immense popularity in largely non-Catholic India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
It would be a “very special occasion” if seminarians from Rome’s pontifical universities might one day play students at Muslim or Hindu religious schools on the subcontinent, he said.
The initiative also is aimed at educating Italy, the Vatican and even Pope Francis that “there is some sport other than football!” he said before passing around a tray of cucumber tea sandwiches, a mainstay of cricket events.
The club is expected to count on some 250-300 students and priests at the Vatican and various pontifical universities around Rome where cricket is already being played informally; from these individual teams a Vatican one would be selected and fielded as early as the spring.
Rome’s Capannelle Cricket Club is letting the Vatican use its pitch, and McCarthy said anonymous private sponsors were prepared to fund equipment, organizational and other related costs.
And just on Sunday in another sporting initiative, the culture ministry organized a “Race of Faith,” laying down a 100-meter track along the main boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square to emphasize sports’ positive spiritual and educational values.
From left, Father Theodore Mascarenhas, Australian Ambassador to the Holy See John McCarthy; Monsignor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture; and Father Eamon O’Higgins meet the journalists as cricket equipment is displayed on a table at the Vatican.×
Monsignor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda wears a helmet.×
A Vatican jersey and cricket equipment is displayed on a table at a press conference at the Vatican.×
Cricket players attend a training session in front of a Vatican flag at the Maria Mater Ecclesiae Catholic College in Rome.×