Faith on the football field

Nu.nl announces that Wesley Sneijder, man of the match in both of the games the Dutch team has played in the World Cup, has recently become Catholic, while English team captain Wayne Rooney was blocked from answering a question about the cross and rosary he habitually wears.

Apparently, faith and football go well together, but it is still reason for a slightly amazed tone in media reports: wow, normal people can be Catholic too. The perceived amazement is not very surprising. One rarely sees the Catholic identity of people so clearly, unless the person in question is a priest or bishop, for example. The fact that Sneijder openly mentions that he was introduced to the Church, and Rooney’s rosary and cross (which he wears outside training, of course), are both subtle but potent witnesses of faith.

The bishop’s conference of South Africa, which also includes the bishops of Botswana and Swaziland, have created a website called Church on the Ball, for all news surrounding the World Cup and its meaning for South Africans and the Church. One specific initiative that I am quite sympathetic to is the so-called Peace Cup, a tournament of African teams organised by the Church. It takes place in the Atteridgeville township in Pretoria, and sees 26 teams from all over Africa competing. Notable is the fact that the teams who reach the semifinals and the finals will consist of multiple nationalities. As Father Kees Thönissen, OFM Cap, said:

Peace is built on inner values such as mutual respect and appreciation of difference. A football Peace Cup is a modest attempt to bring about value change through the immediate experience of the ‘other’ as a human being with unique qualities and skills. Large scale social transformation is arrived at through small scale relationships. It is our prayer that the ties of unity and understanding built up in the teams of this Peace Cup will spread as a leaven into South Africa’s burgeoning multi-ethnic society so in need for real examples of peacefulness.

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