Even though cricket (the second most followed sport in the world) was played by mainly Australian and English seminarians in the 60s and 70s here in Rome, it has really been since the increased number of priests and seminarians from Asian countries (Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka) and Australia that Church cricket has made a name for itself.
The present Vatican (St. Peter’s) Cricket Team was formed almost 10 years ago when the former Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, ksg kc , came with his wife Christine to visit the Pontifical International College Mater Ecclesiae and watched student priests play a cricket match on the sports grounds there. A few months later, a committee was formed under the tutelage of the (then) Pontifical Council for Culture and Sport to arrange a high-profile match against the Archbishop of Canterbury’s xi in England. Thus began the adventure.
In these 9 years the Vatican Team has made 9 [Light of Faith Tour] tours, including England, Portugal, Calabria (Italy), Argentina, Kenya, Malta, and now, Spain [3-12 July]. The upcoming tour of Spain (Alicante, Murcia, Málaga, and Granada) is being organised by the excellent work of Cricket (Spain) and their representative, Mr Jaime González.
On tour, the Vatican Team combines competitive matches with visits to pastoral projects, prisons, and parishes.
Many teams come from different parts of the world to play the Vatican Team at the Capannelle cc ground, just outside Rome — teams from England, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Malta, Hong Kong.
An important part of the Team’s objectives is to reach out to other Christian denominations and inter-faith communities. The first ever cricket match between the Vatican Cricket Team of priests and seminarians with a Muslim community was played in Rome in 2015. The Vatican Cricket Team has also played an interfaith match at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, with members of the Muslim, Jewish, and Sikh religions. On that occasion the Vatican Team played jointly with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s xi . In this way, the Vatican Team put into practice Pope Francis’ desire to build bridges with other communities.
Pope Francis blessed the first ever Vatican Team in 2014 and signed a cricket bat. The generous Pontiff has continued to meet the team over the years. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth received a bat signed by Pope Francis.
Despite the great coverage throughout the world by the media, a hidden but real dimension of the priests, deacons and seminarians who form the Vatican Team is their humble desire to give witness to their Catholic priesthood. ‘We are priests and seminarians who play cricket, not cricketers who happen to be priests and seminarians.’ On tour, the team prays daily Holy Mass and prays together and with local communities. They also bring Rosaries blessed by Pope Francis to give to all they meet on their way.
Recently, The Vatican (St. Peter’s) Cricket Team has formed part of the growing Athletica Vaticana, a civil association for those working within the Vatican for different sports. Athletica Vaticana also reaches out in many charitable concerns within Rome.
The priests and seminarians who form part of the Team (and a greater squad) are here in Rome for between 3 to 5 years, normally. After their studies, they return to their parishes throughout the world to serve as priests. This means that the Vatican Team is always changing, with new players coming into the team as the older players prepare to return to their countries. In this way, the team is refreshed and also faces the challenge of being up to the standard. It is important for the Vatican Team to play cricket well. That does not mean having to win every match, but to show that they know how to play cricket. The Australian lay coach, Dr Dane Kirby, is kind and yet demanding on the players, so that they may give of their best on the field.
Presently, the Vatican (St. Peter’s) Cricket Team and Athletica Vaticana are supported by the new Dicastery of Education and Sport, under the direction of His Eminence Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, whose active encouragement has been of great help to all.
* Fr Eamonn O’Higgins, l.c. professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum,
manager of the Vatican (St. Peter’s) Cricket Team since its beginning in 2014
By Fr Eamonn O’Higgins, l.c. *