Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Cricket Club: An Initiative Aimed at Forging Ties


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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From left, Fr. Theodore Mascarenhas, Australian Ambassador John McCarthy, Msgr. Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, and Fr. Eamon O' Higgins. (AP Photo)
From left, Fr. Theodore Mascarenhas, Australian Ambassador John McCarthy, Msgr. Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, and Fr. Eamon O’ Higgins. (AP Photo)

Cricket is a game traditionally played in Rome only by anglophones, eccentric English aristocrats and immigrants from the subcontinent. However, on October 22, 2013, John McCarthy, the Australian Ambassador to The Holy See, Monsignor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Father Eamon O’ Higgins, and Father Theodore Mascarenhas from India, met the journalists and announced the launch of Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Cricket Club.

John McCarthy QC – Ambassador to The Holy See. (Photo:- Kerry Myers)
John McCarthy QC – The Australian Ambassador to The Holy See. (Photo:– Kerry Myers)

Saint Peter’s CC is the brainchild of John McCarthy, Australian Ambassador to The Holy See. His son trained for the priesthood in Rome was frustrated by the lack of cricketing possibilities in the Vatican even though there is a significant number of people, mostly seminarians and clerics from cricket-playing countries who are keen to play cricket. McCarthy wanted something similar to the Clericus Cup – a soccer tournament among the religious colleges and seminaries of Rome.

Father Theodore Mascarenhas
Father Theodore Mascarenhas from India.

Father Theodore Mascarenhas from India, the club’s chairman, an off-spin bowler, said:

“I think cricket will begin to speak a new language — perhaps Latin, coming into the neighbourhood of the Vatican and beginning to take its first baby steps. We have the expertise. We have the will to do things. And I’m sure we’ll start with our baby steps and we’ll go far ahead. … We hope to have ecumenical dialogue through cricket and play a Church of England side by September.”

In response to a suggestion that cricketing terms and field positions might be translated into Latin or Italian, John McCarthy was firm: “English is the language of cricket and will remain the language of cricket”.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis, known for both intercultural and interfaith dialogue, is a known football enthusiast than a cricket watcher. He still supports the San Lorenzo football club of his native Buenos Aires. Father Mascarenhas said he believed the pontiff, as a “very open man”, would come to accept cricket.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the pontifical council for culture. ( Andrew Medichini  Associated Press  March 5, 2013 )
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the pontifical council for culture. ( Andrew Medichini Associated Press March 5, 2013 )

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the pontifical council for culture, praised the launch of Vatican’s Saint Peter’s CC as a chance to celebrate the nobility of “true sport,” an “expression of inter-culturality” and a “dialogue between people”.

Ambassador McCarthy said: “It is certainly the case that the Holy Father has heard of cricket … as a sport that was played in schools conducted by his [Jesuit] order in Argentina.”

Father Eamon O’ Higgins said: “But I think this is something that goes in line with one of the objectives of Pope Francis, which is to reach out and not stay within our own security zone.”

The organizers hope this initiative for forging ties with teams of other faiths, eventually, would lead to interfaith activities involving cricket matches against teams from Buddhist, Hindu,  Muslim, and Sikh educational institutions.

To begin with, the Vatican cricketers challenged their Anglican counterparts to play cricket at Lord’s Cricket Ground in St John’s Wood, London – the home of cricket. Ambassador John McCarthy said:

“It is hoped there will be a team of sufficient level that, for instance, in the next year they could play a team nominated by the Church of England. … It would be the dearest aspiration of so many of the cricketers here that that game take place at Lord’s.”

Monsignor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, wears a cricket helmet. (AP Photo)
Monsignor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, wears a cricket helmet. (AP Photo)

Monsignor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, was not so optimistic. He quietly said the Vatican would try to put together a team which could “lose with dignity” against the English. “I think they’re very strong,” he added.

Reverend Mark Rylands, Suffragan Bishop of Shrewsbury
Reverend Mark Rylands, Suffragan Bishop of Shrewsbury

Responding to the Vatican’s proposal, Mark Rylands, suffragan bishop of Shrewsbury and a keen cricketer, said:

“I am delighted to hear of the formation of Saint Peter’s Cricket Club and look forward to welcoming them to England as brothers. We do not have a national team at present, but I’m confident that it will be possible for an annual fixture to be played in the spirit of ecumenism. To that end I hope we can keep any sledging to a minimum and that neutral umpires will not be necessary.”

Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. (Photo courtesy Durham diocese)
Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. (Photo courtesy Durham diocese)

On December 20, 2013, the Church of England formally took up Vatican’s challenge to settle scores on the cricket pitch almost 500 years after their split with the Vatican. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the 80-million strong worldwide Anglican communion, accepted the challenge through his representative to The Holy See and Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, Archbishop David Moxon, from New Zealand.

Archbishop David Moxon - Anglican representative to the Holy See and Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
Archbishop David Moxon – Anglican representative to the Holy See and Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

Archbishop Moxon said the match would be held at Lord’s in September 2014 after the Anglicans formed a team of amateurs from Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and nearby theological schools.

When asked if a combination of sports diplomacy and inter-religious dialogue could help improve relations between the two Churches, Archbishop Moxon said:

“It will introduce a conversation piece all over the world whenever Catholics and Anglicans get together. … I think it can only do good and increase the bonds of affection we have for each other.”

Father Eamonn O’Higgins, the organizer of the Vatican cricket team, gave Archbishop Moxon the ball that will be used in the match.

A league composed of best players among priests and seminarians from countries with a cricket tradition – Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka – form the Saint Peter’s Cricket Club.

The Official emblem on the Saint Peters Cricket Club jacket. (Credit Ellis Haris - CNA)
The Official emblem on the Saint Peters Cricket Club jacket. (Credit Ellis Haris /CNA)

The Vatican team will wear the official white and gold colours of The Holy See and their jackets will have two crossed keys – the seal of the papacy,

Brother K.K. Joseph, an Indian who trained a number of future test players while they were in schools run by his religious order in India will coach the Vatican team.

A Vatican XI player during a training session at the Maria Mater Ecclesiae's Catholic College in Rome. (Photo: Reuters)
A Vatican XI player during a training session at the Maria Mater Ecclesiae’s Catholic College in Rome. (Photo: Reuters)

Saint Peter’s CC has already organized trial matches. It aims to have a Twenty20-style tournament between all the pontifical colleges of Rome. A pitch near Ciampino airport on the outskirts of the city has been made available.

While Saint Peter’s CC is currently men only, the organizers are also on the lookout for Indian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan nuns, who have played cricket before, in order to form a women’s cricket team.

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