“Extract from the Catholic Herald”

Pope Francis has blessed the Vatican’s cricket club ahead
of the team’s first ever tour of England.

The Pope signed a cricket bat that the St Peter’s Cricket
Club players will bring with them on the five-match tour, which will include
matches against a British armed forces XI in Aldershot and the Royal Household
Cricket Club at Windsor Castle, before a grand tour finale against a Church of
England XI.

So, last Friday saw the culmination of that rather
unusual cricket tour, when the Vatican City cricket team played against a
Church of England XI, appropriately enough at the County ground in Canterbury.
Sport has, for a long time, played a role in bringing communities together and
cricket has had its fair share of success in this regard. I was at the ground
in 1993 when South Africa’s ban was lifted at the end of the apartheid years to
watch them play against, symbolically, the West Indies in Bridgetown; one of my
brothers was involved in a Tony Blair initiative to bring cricket to the young
people of inner-city Bradford straight after the awful riots of 2001; and more
recently an acquaintance of mine is helping to raise money for a new cricket
stadium in Rwanda, a symbol of how far that country has come since the
appalling genocide of the 1990s.

Sport brings people together in a way that often cuts
across national, religious and racial lines. Today you might think that an
Anglican versus Catholic cricket match might be rather small fry compared to
those other examples, but you don’t have to go back far to find suspicion at
best, and genuine hatred at worst, between these two communities. The troubles
in Northern Ireland were a feature of my childhood (it is hard to believe
nowadays that the Irish Republican Army was detonating bombs in the middle of
London only a couple of decades ago; no fewer than 59 attacks too k place in
only the first two years of the 1990s) and I belonged to a generation where my
father’s parents, both Anglicans, refused to come to my own christening which
followed my maternal line as a catholic.

Rather wonderfully, there was still some controversy in
the cricket last week; firstly there was talk of sledging and a win at all
costs attitude prior to the game.  I can
believe this – I once played football against a team of trainee catholic
priests and it was the most foul mouthed game of football I have ever
played.  Then secondly an experienced
umpire who volunteered to officiate the game was vetoed by the Vatican, on the
grounds that his great-great-grandfather had once been Bishop of Rochester in
the 19th century. Catholics may believe in hindsight that it was because of this
pettiness that the Vatican city team lost the game – divine retribution of an
amusing kind – but personally I’m just happy they are playing cricket against
each other, no doubt sharing a claret at the end of the game and putting well
to one side years of far more significant opposition.  And well done to Sport for that.



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