Protestants and Catholics Meet, on the Cricket Pitch

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Protestants and Catholics Meet, on the Cricket Pitch
Past and present managers of the St. Peter’s cricket team, Father Robert McCullough, left, and Father Sameer Advani watched the action.

VATICAN CITY — Ancient Rome is credited with turning sport from athletic ritual into spectacle. From bloody gladiatorial battles in the Colosseum, to the Derby della Capitale between the soccer archrivals Lazio and A.S. Roma, the city’s stadiums have seen every emotion.

It was fitting, then, that this year Rome hosted a cricket match between the Anglican and Catholic churches. Unlike the ancient blood sports, this match fostered unity.

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Protestants and Catholics Meet, on the Cricket Pitch
The Anglican team played catch with an orange during an excursion to Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo.

It might not look like much, but the match played on Rome’s only cricket pitch was more significant than it appeared.

“Playing together builds up its own bond, perhaps more of a bond than at a theological level, where set groups start off from very clear postures and are trying to work together,” said Father Eamon, the manager of the Vatican team.

2017 was the tournament’s fourth year, and the second time it has been held in Rome. Three teams competed in 2016: the two Christian teams and a Muslim team from Birmingham, England.

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“At the first match in Canterbury, a Roman Catholic cardinal was given the opportunity to celebrate a Catholic Mass in the Canterbury Cathedral, and as a result early this year there was an Anglican evensong in St. Peter’s,” said Paul Handley, the editor of The Church Times and one of the organizers of the match. “These things have never happened before.”

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Protestants and Catholics Meet, on the Cricket Pitch
The teams warmed up at the Capannelle Cricket Club — the only cricket club in Rome.
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Protestants and Catholics Meet, on the Cricket Pitch
A batsman from the St. Peter’s team warmed up in the nets before the game.
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Protestants and Catholics Meet, on the Cricket Pitch
The winners’ trophy, engraved with the words Ut Unum Sint — To Be One. Two cricket bats signed by Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

The Anglican coach, Tom Murray, recalled the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, walking into the dressing room with a pint of beer and telling the team that they “will never realize how much impact this game has made, for unity; it’s more than we could have achieved in 10 years.”

This year’s match retained a competitive edge. The Anglican XI, made up of clergy members and trainee priests, was eager to avenge the defeat they had suffered on this ground two years ago.

The youthful St. Peter’s XI had the advantage of being from fanatical cricketing countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, where cricket is preferred to sports like soccer and rugby.

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Protestants and Catholics Meet, on the Cricket Pitch
After the game, the Anglican team joined the Catholic players for mass and dinner.

The Anglicans put up an almost unassailable lead of 176 for 3 on the strength of a century — 100 runs in a single innings — from the South African batsman Chris Kennedy. St. Peter’s probably would have needed divine intervention to beat that score, and they were all out for 137.

After the game the players from both sides shared an evening mass and dinner. The St. Peter’s team in their clerical robes sat side by side with their opposition in suits and ties. Nestled in the bag of one the Anglican players was the winners trophy. The Latin words engraved on it were “Ut Unum Sint.”

To Be One.

Correction: November 23, 2017

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misspelled part of the name of the only cricket club in Rome. It is Capannelle Cricket Club, not Capanelle.

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