How is sport like faith? Faith can be similarly used for cooperation, friendship, money, or play. In terms of fitness, if anyone has been to a religious institution, it’s likely they’ve done hard labor around the temple grounds, or played in a soccer game with friends after a particularly long religious function. You travel for faith, taking planes and buses and walking to Mecca or the Vatican or church the way you travel for sport, to the World Cup or the Olympics or to your brother’s little league game. You watch faith, at your church’s Christmas show or the religious stories that air on television during Christmas or during a christening, the way you watch sports in a bar or at the match, cheering with your brethren, although damning the other team under your breath is not seen as serious as doing the same in religious ceremonies — though both can end in violence, as evidenced by when the Red Sox won this year. And you can celebrate faith recreationally, on your own time: what is the difference between playing with a ball in your office, throwing it and catching and just engaging in some fun, compared to saying a silent prayer over your child’s head, or giving money to a homeless man, or telling the person you joined in religious ceremony that you love them?
I was dazzled by this story about the Vatican starting its own cricket team. I was a little confused by the name — St. Peter, really? Wouldn’t St. Sebastion, the patron saint of athletes and sports, be a better title? — but the idea was amazing: weaving faith into sports and sports into faith. Sports, like faith, is amorphous — you can define anything as sport or faith. Chess is sport, charity is faith. According to NPR, in this case it can be used as a means of interfaith relations:
“In … competitive sport, you combat, you’re taking on an opposition,” [Rev. Eamon] O’Higgins says. “There is a challenge, and the aim is to win.”
But he says the creation of the Vatican cricket team also has a broader purpose: forging interfaith relations by taking on teams of Hindus and Muslims. This is also in line with Pope Francis’ vision of a church reaching out to the poorest and to all corners of the globe.
According to CNN, Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, was the main pusher for the team. On the subject of diversity:
“Internationally one would have a team that represented the Vatican, the Holy See, that was drawn from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies — what an international team that would be.
“And it would obviously generate a lot of interest with the faithful who are both faithful to the church and faithful to cricket in various areas of the world.”
Cricket can also foment personal growth for people of faith:
The Catholic Church has long championed sports as good for mind, body and soul. And one of the players, Sri Lankan seminarian Antony Fernando, says sports are particularly important for those aspiring to the priesthood.
“Learn a lot of things in sports, to accept both victory and defeat, in life of priesthood we need to accept things, because in the future as a priest we know that things are not going that easy,” he says.
And finally, the most exciting part of the story for me:
And it’s not just the priests who can get in on the sporting action. The organizers are also looking for nuns who may have wielded a cricket bat in the past to join a women’s XI, or team.
“They are looking for Sri Lankan, Indian and Pakistani sisters who have played cricket, and if they are found, they certainly will be invited to join the cricket club,” said McCarthy.
“There’s certainly no intention not to have a women’s cricket team at the Vatican.”