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Cricket at the Vatican by Rev. Cranston

At 7am on Wednesday 18th October, twelve vicars and ordinands met at Gatwick airport to travel to Rome to play the Vatican at cricket.  The Vatican team – known as St Peter’s XI – is composed of priests and seminarians from England, Australia, India, Sri Lanka and Africa.  The Archbishop of Canterbury’s (ABC) XI is a team that was started four years ago after the Church of England were challenged to a contest by the newly formed St Peter’s XI.  It was an offer the Bishop of Shrewsbury could not refuse and after a selection process at Lord’s Cricket ground the ABC XI were formed.  Since then the ABC v St Peter’s cricket match has become an annual event with the aim of developing ecumenical relations between the two Churches. Players from both sides have come and gone in that time and this year I was fortunate enough to be selected for the 12 man squad to travel to Rome. The five day tour was a mix of cricket, sightseeing and fostering ecumenical relationships.  

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The cricket was a huge success for the ABC XI. We played two matches; a ‘warm up’ against Capannelle Cricket Club based in Rome and then the ‘big one’ against St Peter’s.  Our match against Capannelle was a hard fought affair.  They batted first and started steadily eventually making 144 in their 20 overs.  The ABC XI started slowly, but eventually passed the 145 needed with two overs to spare and 5 wickets in hand.

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A couple of days later, we returned to the same venue to play St Peter’s XI.  Although the Catholic team had spent much of the previous day trying to feed us up like Christmas turkeys, we turned up raring to go.  After a very slow start we eventually amassed the imposing score of 176 for 3 with our vice-captain Chris Kennedy scoring 103 off 57 balls. The total was a formidable one and with tight bowling, the St Peter’s boys were always behind the required run rate eventually falling 39 runs short, closing on 137-8. The result meant that the ABC XI retained the ‘Ut Unum Sint (That they may be one)’ cup and put them 3-1 up in the head-to-head meetings.

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It was a huge privilege to be asked to be invited to be part of the tour.  Alongside playing cricket, we were asked to spend time with the St Peter’s team with the aim of walking together in our sport, our lives and in our worship of God.  This involved more formal functions such as a reception by the British Ambassador to the Holy See, to informal times of being given tours around St Peter’s Basilica and the Pope‘s residence as Castel Gandolfo.  During one of these trips, the manager of the Vatican team, Father Eamonn O’Higgins, spoke powerfully about the special relationships between Catholics and Anglicans.  He went on to reflect that in walking together we needed to acknowledge the wounds caused between us in the past if we are going to find healing in the future.  In particular it was hugely humbling to be invited into one of the seminarian colleges for Solemn Vespers with the trainee priests.  Very graciously we were brought into an intimate space and were able to experience an unfamiliar integrity of worship in a different style and language.

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As part of the trip we were able to visit the Anglican Centre in Rome and the Archbishop of Burundi, who just last week took up the post of being the Archbishop’s representative to the Pope.  Here, we heard about the role the annual cricket match is playing in the Catholic-Anglican dialogue of recent times.  We may not be doing the diplomacy or the theology, but in simply playing cricket together we are beginning to live out the practice of what it means to walk together. 

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On the 31st October we marked 500 years since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door in protest against the Catholic Church.  Differences still remain but it is easy to forget that many of the critiques of the 95 theses have been addressed in the Catholic Church since then.  It is also amazing that since the impact of the Reformation, the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church are as currently as close as they have ever been in those 500 years. This year, Pope Francis attended a service at All Saints Anglican Church in Rome and an Anglican service was conducted in St Peter’s Basilica for the first time ever.  Most of this dialogue has arisen out of the deep friendship between Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin, but it was a privilege to witness the small role that cricket is playing in bringing the Churches together!

I am grateful to Mr Noad for allowing me the opportunity to play and to my colleagues for coving lessons in my absence. It was an amazing experience and the people and places, conversations and cricket will live long in the memory.

Rev. Andrew Cranston

 

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