"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 Twenty20 match at the Spitfire Ground in Canterbury, the
first-class home of Kent County Cricket Club, took place in hot
sunshine last Friday afternoon, shading to evening gloom, and
finishing under brilliant floodlighting.
A crowd of almost 1000 spectators - including the Papal Nuncio,
the Most Revd Antonio Mennini, and Lord Nicholas Windsor - 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, a Roman Catholic parish in Brighton, also called St
Peter's, the Authors XI, and the Royal Household at Windsor. They
notched up two victories and two defeats.
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 last Thursday, during
evensong in Canterbury Cathedral. The service anticipated the game:
the hymn was "Fight the good fight", and the prayers included:
"When the last ball is 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
The Revd Rob Glenny, a deacon 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
costs. 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 which 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, witnessed by 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. First they, and then the
Anglicans, struggled to make runs against tight fielding.
In the end, a closer finish could not have been wished for.
The Archbishop of Canterbury presented the cup and medals in the
company of the Nuncio, and presided at a celebratory dinner at the
ground, at which the guests of honour included the Nuncio, the RC
Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Revd Peter Smith, and the British
and Australian ambassadors to the Holy See.
A collection at the ground raised several thousand pounds 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.