"HE CAUGHT me out, but I forgive him." Perhaps the cricket match
between the Vatican and the C of E was different, after all.
The T20 match at the Spitfire Ground in Canterbury, the
first-class home of Kent County Cricket Club, took place in hot
sunshine on Friday afternoon, shading to evening gloom, and
finishing under brilliant floodlighting.
A crowd of almost 1000 spectators watched the culmination of the
week-long visit to the UK by the St Peter's Club team, a Vatican
side made up of seminarians, mostly from India. Their warm-ups had
included games against the Army chaplains at Aldershot and the
Royal Household at Windsor.
Friday's match, though, was the big one, the response to a
challenge issued by the Vatican last December - the first ever such
sporting encounter "since the Reformation" - and probably a little
before that, too.
Their opponents, the Archbishop of Canterbury's XI, were a group
of ordinands assembled in a trawl by the Church
Times, who had played together for the first time in a
friendly in Gravesend two days previously.
The two teams first met each other on Thursday during evensong
in Canterbury Cathedral. The service anticipated the game: the hymn
was "Fight the good fight", and the closing prayers included: "When
the last ball in bowled, the stumps are drawn. . ."
Straight after evensong, a colloquium in the Cathedral's new
lecture hall involved players and guests in a discussion about the
compatibility of faith and sport. Questioned by Trevor Barnes, who
chaired the session, Fr Jery Paul Njaliath, spoke about how the
church compound in Kerala, where he had grown up, was the place
where all the young people in the town congregated to play
It broke down barriers of faith and caste, he said; and it
helped people to become better human beings, teaching virtues such
as perseverance, patience, hard work, and the pursuit of
Rob Glenny, an ordinand in the C of E team, said that he had no
difficulty imagining Jesus playing sport. He agreed with his
teammate Will Foulger, that there was a middle way between
indifference and fanaticism.
To the bemusement of some of the Indians, a number of the
English players spoke about a clash with the drinking culture
attached to sport, especially at university. Their solution was to
gain respect by being the best they could be on the field, the
earliest at the training ground, and the readiest to help.
The Roman Catholic seminarians were also a little excluded from
a brief discussion about bringing up sports-mad children. What was
to be avoided at all costs, said the Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Rt
Revd Mark Rylands (the C of E's 13th man), was setting churchgoing
and Christian adherence at odds with sport.
There was more consensus when the discussion turned to sporting
ethics. A guest at the colloquium was Henry Olonga, the former
Zimbabwean test cricketer who had been forced into exile after a
public protest against President Mugabe. He spoke of the loneliness
that he had observed among those who had played to win at all
Had he prayed to win? "Yes, of course - though the prayers
didn't often get answered.
In conclusion, speakers contrasted the joy and playfulness of
amateur sport with the undesirable elements that had crept into the
After the debate, and a generous dinner laid on by the Dean of
Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis, there was a final
ecumenical encounter: the captain of the Vatican side, Fr Tony
Currer, joined members of the C of E side at La Trappiste, a bar
near the cathedral that sells beers from Roman Catholic monasteries
on the Continent.
AS THE match came closer, the friendships forged on Thursday
evening reinforced the feeling that each side wanted the other to
do well. Perhaps because they were the hosts, this was articulated
more by the C of E side. On the other hand, the players were only
human, so this manifested itself in a desire to win . . . but not
by very much.
There was no call for match-fixing, however, even of the most
beneficent kind. The Vatican team won the toss, conducted in front
of a large press cohort, including a crew from ESPN, the sports
channel, who had followed the Vatican team from Rome, and a BBC
crew filming a documentary about Canterbury Cathedral.
They chose to bat, but by dint of tight - if occasionally
wayward - bowling and energetic fielding, the C of E pegged them to
106 runs in their 20 overs.
The Archbishop's XI thus started their innings in good spirits.
These did not last long, however, as they, too, struggled to make
runs. The first two overs ended with just two on the scoreboard,
both from extras. The Vatican bowling was even less generous that
the Anglican, and the fielders just as energetic.
Steve Gray, the C of E captain retired hurt. (He had himself
replaced Jez Barnes, who missed the game through injury.) And a
couple of fine catches helped make the C of E position look even
more desperate, when, after 15 overs, they remained a long way
But a late partnership between Andy Watkins and Rob Oram changed
the nature of the game. As the floodlights brightened the ground,
so, too, did the batsmen's play. A closer finish could not have
been wished for, as the C of E side squeezed past the Vatican total
in the last over.
The Archbishop of Canterbury presented the cup and medals in the
company of the Papal Nuncio, and presided at a celebratory dinner
at the ground, attended by, among other dignitaries, the RC
Archbishop of Southwark and the Australian and British ambassadors
to the Holy See.
A collection at the ground was taken for the Global Freedom
Network, the anti-slavery initiative set up by the Archbishop of
Canterbury and Pope Francis - to which the day's proceedings had
added another example of the exciting cooperation possible between
the two Churches.
Full match report and more pictures from the game in
next week's Church Times.