Historic cricket match may heal Rome's rift with England

 VATICAN CITY - The Holy See has unveiled the new St Peter’s Cricket Club’s forthcoming “Light of Faith” tour which will climax in an unprecedented Twenty20 ecumenical charity match with an Anglican XI. 

 A Vatican committee revealed the Global Freedom Network as their chosen charity and the reasons behind this newly founded initiative.

 The press launch took place in the Library of the Pontifical Council for Culture where Father Eamonn O’Higgins LC, Archbishop Sir David Moxon, Monsignor Melchor Sanchez Toca and Philippa Hitchen of Vatican Radio shared the details of the tour.

 Paul Howard, head of the St Peter's Cricket Club Finance committee, who is the Rome-based regional manager of Blacktower financial services and a former English county cricket player, was also among those at the launch in the Vatican. The match sponsors on the Anglican side include Kent County Cricket Club, founded in 1842, which provided its ground for free, and the Church Times, which has coordinated clergy cricket in the UK since 1951. Mr Howard arranged sponsorship for the costs of the St. Peter's Club tour and equipment by private individuals "well known in cricket circles" who preferred to remain anonymous.

 The ‘Light of Faith Tour’ culminates in the big charity match between the Anglican 1st XI and the Vatican cricket team after Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby formally accepted the Club’s Honorary President Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi’s challenge to take on the Anglicans last year.

 At the press launch Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi shared the chosen charitable aspect of the initiative --the issue of human trafficking “a plague which hurts most those who are left alone and abandoned.”

 “The first priority of is to raise awareness and the second is to raise money and give thanks to God for whatever we accumulate” said Father O’Higgins.

 Entrance to the match will be free to give the message that the Church is free and open to everyone. However, a bucket collection will take place where the proceeds will go to the Global Freedom Network (the joint Anglican-Roman Catholic anti-trafficking charity). A gala dinner will also be held for after the game where the public can make donations.

 The two churches will be symbolically reunited for the first time since they split in 1534 under King Henry VIII’s rule. Archbishop David Moxon commented, “seeing both teams enjoying each other’s company is an example of what we are capable of as partners in mission.”

 He added that this newly founded tradition could improve relations between the churches; “It will introduce a conversation piece all over the world whenever Catholics and Anglicans get together. I think it can only do good and will increase the bonds of affection we have for each other.”

 The Twenty20 match between the Anglican team and St Peter’s XI will take place at Kent County Cricket Club’s ground  Sept. 19. The St Peter’s team will also take part in a series of pre-warm up matches before they face the formidable Anglican side.

 The tour party leaves for England on Sept. 12 and will play St Peter’s Brighton Sept- 14 and the Author’s XI at Ascott House Sept 15. in their lead up to the big game.

 It also appears the initiative may take on royal proportions after receiving an invitation from the Queen of England to play against the Windsor cricket team at some point during the tour.

 Archbishop Welby expressed his gratitude to all those involved in the initiative; “I would like to express particular thanks to Kent County Cricket Club for so generously offering the use of their ground, and to those who are working hard to ensure the St Peter’s Cricket team enjoy a memorable tour."

 "I also pray that the match will draw attention to the very serious problem of modern slavery and human trafficking, which our two churches are working closely together to combat through the work of the Global Freedom Network.”

 Liturgical moments have also been planned for the game including a special prayer before the match, attendance at Evensong on the evening of Thursday Sept. 18 and a daily hour of Eucharistic devotion for the Catholic men during the tour.

 The committee spoke of the importance of sport, its educative role, its moral and cultural values and how it enables the Christian community to integrate with the contemporary world.

 Cardinal Ravasi recognised sport as the biggest social phenomenon of our time; “In our culture of massive movement of peoples, sport challenges us to examine not just how hospitable we are, as individual athletes, but also how similar we are, for as Jean Giraudoux affirms, 'sport is the real esperanto of the peoples.'"

 Monsignor Melchor Sanchez de Toca, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture highlighted another equally important aspect of the initiative that is to redeem the sporting image; “the world of sport needs to be healed-it is threatened by corruption, drugs and violence. We want to help it find its values again.”

 The St Peter’s selected XI-incluiding eight Indians, two Sri Lankans, one each from Pakistan, England and Ireland-coached by Brother Joseph Karimpanil, will appear in the official colours of the state (yellow and white) with the coat of arms of St Peter’s as its club crest.

 “Priests in white uniform will remind us of the presence of the Lord” said Fr. O’Higgins.

 Although a return match in Rome has not yet been organised the committee are excited to see the progression of the initiative, with the Vatican team already hoping to tour in India in the future to play teams of Hindus and other faiths.