p class=”western” align=”left”>By ROSIE SCAMMELL
© 2015 Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican got its cricket season off to a winning start this month by triumphing over a London club, but there’s still everything to play for in matches against Argentine and English teams.
The St. Peter’s Cricket Club was launched last year by the Pontifical Council for Culture as a way to promote sport and dialogue with among countries. Many of the players are originally from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, where cricket is hugely popular.
There was jubilation on Friday (Oct. 2) as the St. Peter’s Cricket Club claimed victory over London’s Highgate Taverners, at a playing ground in the shadow of Rome’s Aqueduct Park. Since then the St. Peter’s players, a mix of seminarians and churchmen, have had little time to rest.
Their month of matches continues on Monday, facing St. Radegund Cricket Club from Cambridge. But the St. Peter’s Cricket Club will likely be saving their prayers for a match on Oct. 17 against Mount Cricket Club, a community club from Yorkshire — the county that boasts England’s most successful club.
While Mount Cricket Club happens to hail from England, where cricket has ardent fans, the players were invited above all because of their Muslim backgrounds and their work in the community, such as with a local disability project.
Nigel Baker, the U.K. ambassador to the Holy See, said the match would help build relationships.
“Through sport, these interreligious relations go further. It’s about common interest and humanity. It’s not just about theology; it’s about coming together and doing something in common,” he said on Thursday, during a presentation of the upcoming matches.
While an air of friendly competition accompanied the opening of this month’s tour, a year after the St. Peter’s club was formed, Pope Francis’ allegiances will be challenged by one match.
On Oct. 14 the Vatican side faces Caacupe de la Villa, a cricket club from an impoverished area of the pontiff’s home city of Buenos Aires. As noted by the Rev. Eamonn O’Higgins, the chaplain of the St. Peter’s team, the Argentines remember their former bishop fondly.
“They remember seeing their archbishop walking around the streets of Buenos Aires, and he blessed the cricket ground that they used,” O’Higgins said.
The pontiff has not revealed which side he will be supporting, although he showed his enthusiasm for the sport last year by signing a cricket bat and wearing the St. Peter’s hat.