POPE FRANCIS has sent a message of support to the interfaith cricket match taking place at Lords Cricket Ground on Friday.
A joint Anglican/Vatican side will be pitted against an interfaith team, playing on the Lords Nursery Ground (News, 8 June). The match also has the backing of the Commonwealth Secretary General, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the Mayor of London, and top figures in the cricketing world.
The Pope’s message quotes from a 2013 address to the European Olympic Committee: “Because the language of sports is universal; it extends across borders, language, race, religion, and ideology; it possesses the capacity to unite people together by fostering dialogue and acceptance.”
The message continues: “Commending all taking part to the maternal intercession of Our Lady of Walsingham, as a pledge of peace and joy Pope Francis willingly invokes an abundance of Almighty God’s blessing.”
The village of Little Walsingham in Norfolk has two shrines, one Anglican, one Roman Catholic, which have a warm ecumenical relationship. Annual pilgrimages commemorate a vision of the Virgin Mary, said to have appeared to a noble Englishwoman, Richeldis de Faverches. There is no known sporting connection.
An annual match has taken place since 2014 between a Vatican side and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s XI. When the teams met in Rome last autumn, they hatched a plan to play on the same side against a multifaith team. Friday’s opponents came via contacts made when a multifaith team visited Rome in 2016. The team consists of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs.
A statement released before the match explained its purpose: “The two teams wish in this way to be witnesses to and representatives of authentic religious experience.
“What unites our religions at the most profound level is the sense of the sacred, the recognition of a transcendent order and purpose in all things, and the conviction that this religious experience is essential to give meaning to human life, at both a personal and social level.
“The great religions represent, in fact, an unparalleled and precious living memory of what it means to be truly human. They conserve a memory of the richness of humanity’s joys and sufferings, hopes and limitations. . .
“We come from different religions, countries, and ethnic communities, and yet we are committed not only to growing in mutual respect and understanding, but also to challenging and learning from each other in our struggle to live a more authentic human life, open to God and to others.
“Our hope is that this example of what dialogue truly consists in will inspire public society to recognise, defend, and promote the role of religion in society today, and thus encourage all men and women to be enriched from the diversity of authentic human religious experience.”
The Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Scotland, spoke of cricket as held in common by the 53 countries that make up the Commonwealth. “When used strategically, cricket can make a valuable contribution to building communities, promoting social cohesion and gender equality, and connecting people across religions, cultures, races, and regions — binding them together with and to people they would not otherwise meet or wish to understand.”
It was her intention, she said, to use sport “as a tool for development and peace-building ,to help rebuild and strengthen relationships between the generations and communities within the Commonwealth”.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The interfaith cricket match at Lord’s is yet another demonstration of sport’s ability to bring people together in a positive way.”
The match also had the backing of Lord Patel, a senior independent director of the English Cricket Board, and Guy Lavender, chief executive and secretary of the MCC.