Priests and seminarians from several soccer-loving countries took to a field near the looming dome of St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday for the first match of the Clericus Cup, a tournament fielding 16 teams from Catholic institutes in Rome.
"You are playing in view of St. Peter's cupola, so behave well," admonished Cardinal Pio Laghi before giving the official kickoff at a small arena on a hill overlooking the Vatican.
Amid screams from the coaches, pious slogans from the small crowd and T-shirts invoking the protection of the Virgin Mary, a motley crew of Latin Americans, Africans and Asians from the Collegio Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church College) took on an all-Brazilian team fielded by Gregorian University.
In a miraculous upset, the young Mater Ecclesiae players trounced the more experienced but portly Brazilians 6-0 as their fans chanted: "The Mother of the Church wants a goal!"
The game had its share of hard tackles and rough play, with the first goal coming from a penalty kick — the second in the match.
Still, in the end it was all handshakes and smiles between the teams, in what officials and players hope will set a good example for Italian professional soccer, which has been recently marred by fan violence and scandal.
The tournament is also a second chance for many clergymen who left promising soccer careers to follow their spiritual calling, said Marco Rosales, a Mexican seminarian who coaches the Mater Ecclesiae team.
"Some on the team had a chance to play professionally, but the Lord called them to His team," he said.
The Clericus Cup will run through June, with the 16 teams fielding 311 athletes from countries including Italy, the United States, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Rwanda.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
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