On Friday 19th September I was privileged to witness a piece of history. For the first time ever a Vatican cricket team, made up of seminarians and colleagues from around Rome, played cricket with an Anglican team drawn from theological colleges around London. This was a game between the Archbishop’s eleven and the St Peter’s Cricket Club, following an invitation last year to the Church of England from the Pontifical Council for Culture and Sport in the Vatican. The Pontifical Council had in turn been inspired by the idea from His Excellency John McCarthy, Australian Ambassador to the Holy See. The venue was the Spitfire ground at Canterbury, and was preceded by a colloquium on culture sport and faith at the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge, as guests of the Dean, the Very Revd Robert Wills, and the Cathedral Chapter .The Vatican team were also treated to a day tour of the cathedral grounds and heritage.
The British and world press featured the game widely, noting that official representation in sport from the headquarters of the two communions had not taken place since the separation brought by the Reformation. From the evensong at Canterbury Cathedral the evening before to the matins service the day after, about one thousand people participated. The game raised money for the Global Freedom Network, a new ecumenical and multi-faith group dedicated to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking, and a fund-raising dinner was held after the game addressed movingly by both captains and very effectively by the CEO of the GFN Ms Antonia Stampalija. This network was initiated from faith bases by a conversation between Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin, the work of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science care of its Chancellor Bishop Sanchez Sorondo, and then also through the initiatives of the Walk Free Foundation through its co- founder Mr Andrew Forrest.
The colloquium on faith and sport had set the tone for the game. Each side would be playing its best and were aiming to win, but not to conquer. Rather they wanted to enjoy the sport and the inter-communion of relationships and witness it brought. They wanted to enjoy the gifts God had given them as sports people. This was evidenced when, at the end of the game, both sides hugged each other rather than the usual handshake.
However, perhaps the greatest outcome of the game was the fact that the press celebrated two different Christian communions enjoying each other’s company in a light-hearted but very focussed way. This happened at a time when there are still several major differences between the two Churches, so it was all the more powerful that they both decided to play together and to give a great deal of time and energy to do it, across several countries and with every effort that was possible. They committed together wholeheartedly to the goal of fundraising for their shared commitment to the Global Freedom Network. The preparation alone took a year.
The game proved again that what unites us is greater than what divides us. We agree on approximately 80 per cent of core doctrine in my view. The work of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC III) is seeking to close that gap slowly and patiently, notwithstanding huge challenges. As two communions called together by a common baptism we are working hard at what a closer walk together in mission means. Pope Francis said last year to Archbishop Justin, born of his trust and friendly relations with him, that “We must walk together”. As of last Friday, we are “Playing together” too. It is to be hoped that this example will spread to other parts of the world. Indeed some places already do this.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; so it is with us. This cricket game has brightened us up and has lightened us up, and we can point to the buoyancy that comes from playing the game well and enjoying God’s good gifts of body, mind and spirit, together. This has become a talking point in many parts of the world. In the Gospel of Christ , which is our Way our Truth and our Life, we are of course “ better together”. Not for ourselves, but for the common good. Let’s do this again, and again.
Read the Blog of HE Nigel Baker, British Ambassador to the Holy See
The report of the match in The Guardian
Video and Report on our website
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