We’re currently talking about the ten plagues in our Sunday School classes, so when I heard a news story using the words “pope” and “cricket” in the same sentence, I was immediately suspicious. As it turns out, a swarm of crickets was not one of the ten plagues used by God in the book of Exodus to help Moses lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. Nor was it a new plague sent to wreak havoc on the modern world. Nope. The new pope – Pope Francis – has something else in mind.
The Vatican now has a cricket team, made up of priests and seminary students from around Rome who have cricket-playing experience. St. Peter’s Cricket Club is the brain child of the sports department of the Vatican’s cultural ministry. Apparently, the team will wear yellow and white, the official Vatican colors (who knew?) with the keys of St. Peter as their symbol.
Relatively few people in America even know the rules to cricket, which is sort of the point. Cricket was first played in southern England, eventually becoming the national sport of that country. Thanks to the British Empire, cricket spread far and wide. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the Caribbean are all full members of the International Cricket Council, but the primary religion in those countries is not necessarily Christianity. In India, it’s Hinduism. In Pakistan, it’s Islam. In Sri Lanka, it’s Buddhism. Sports are inherently interfaith, with soccer being the most obvious example, but most world-renowned teams are not sponsored by religious institutions.
This pope seems to be making a habit of garnering attention for his unconventional approaches. Shortly after being named the 266th pope, he made headlines when he washed the feet of juvenile detainees, including the young women in the group. Several weeks ago, he made headlines again with his quote, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Most recently, he suspended a German bishop who purportedly spent $40 million dollars renovating his personal residence. Perhaps a cricket team is not so surprising, although the reason for it might be.
For Pope Francis, the Vatican cricket team is an interfaith outreach effort. He envisions the Vatican team engaging in friendly competition with teams from other religious schools around the world, including those from other faiths. Presumably, cricket matches would offer yet another reminder that followers of other faiths are people, too – people who share a desire to connect with the divine, using their own particular faith practices. Interfaith efforts often focus on rituals, holidays, crafts, and food, but the Vatican shows us that sports can work, too. For those of us interested in the interfaith education of kids, the lesson here is that any/all methods we find for breaching religious divides are worth pursuing.
The Church of England has already expressed interest in a match, which is probably more inter-denominational than interfaith. Nevertheless, it’s a great first step. The pope and the Vatican have shown great courage. What first steps are you willing to take to help the kids in your life connect to those of other faiths?
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