Catholic Priests and Seminarians Compete in 13th Annual Vatican Soccer Tournament

Pope Francis plays with a soccer ball as he meets players of the Clericus Cup, a soccer tournament by teams of Catholic seminarians in Rome, at the end of his weekly general audience, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo courtesy of Clericus Cup

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Catholic priests and seminarians prepare to toss their cassocks aside and give their all on the soccer field, as Rome launches its 13th annual Clericus Cup.

“It was really cool to come to an international place like this, especially coming from the Midwest,” Paul Floersch, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, told Religion News Service on Friday (Feb. 28). Floersch, a seminarian at the North American College, is competing for the third time in the Clericus Cup.

“To see all these countries coming together in this Catholic setting brings together two of my favorite things: the church and soccer,” he added.

What started as a small tournament for clergy in the Eternal City has become a global attraction, as many international seminarians studying in Rome compete for the sought-after prize.

The annual games and their collared soccer players have garnered public attention in recent years, from media reports to an appearance on the Italian Masterchef show.

The games will begin on March 7, with 16 teams taking part in the tournament, which is promoted by the Italian Sporting Center with the patronage of the Italian bishop’s conference, the Vatican Department for Lay people, Family and Life and the Pontifical Council for Culture. This year’s events are sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.

The finals will take place on May 30, and the team captains will have a private audience with Pope Francis on May 27. This year also marks the debut of the Argentine team from the country’s seminary in downtown Rome, and team members say they “feel the pressure.”

“We’ve got some big and tall priests,” joked the captain of the Argentine team during a press conference on Feb. 27 at the sporting center of the Knights of Columbus, which overlooks the city of Rome and the large dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, expressing his hope to do well in the tournament.

Francis, who was named “honorary captain” during a meeting with some players, will bless the Clericus Cup, shaped like a soccer ball but with the “saturno,” a traditional hat worn by Roman Catholic clergy.

Floersch won the championship the first year he played in 2018, saying that it was a “great and fun experience.”

For the seminarian from the Midwest, soccer isn’t all about winning. “Sports in general are an excellent way to build the faith,” he said. “Something about being committed to the practice is not unlike being committed to prayer.”

Kyle Poje, a seminarian from Seattle, Washington, also studies theology at the North American College and has participated in the tournament for two years. He, too, finds a strong connection between living out the Catholic faith and competing on the soccer field.

“In soccer we come together and encounter each other. Our God wants to encounter every person,” he told RNS. “We come together in prayer first and foremost here on the field.”

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Source: Religion News Service