Cricket holy war on as Anglicans accept Vatican challenge

Players from a team of priests attend a training session in Rome.

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Let the holy war begin. The holy war of cricket, that is.

The Church of England on Friday formally took up the Vatican's challenge to settle scores on the cricket pitch nearly 500 years after the two Churches split.

Last October, the Vatican formed the St. Peter's Cricket Club, a league composed of teams of priests and seminarians from Catholic colleges and seminaries in Rome.

The best players will form a Vatican team, called the "Vatican XI," and challenged the Church of England to form its own team of Anglican priests and seminarians to play in London at Lord's, the home of cricket.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the 80 million strong worldwide Anglican communion, accepted through his representative to the Vatican, Archbishop David Moxon.

Moxon said plans were for the match to be held at Lord's in September after the Anglican side puts together a similar team of amateurs from Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and nearby theological schools.

Father Eamonn O'Higgins, a priest who is organising the Vatican side, gave Moxon the ball that will be used in the match.

Moxon took a dig at Australia, who thrashed England 3-0 to win back the Ashes trophy earlier this week.

"He (the Archbishop of Canterbury) also wanted me to say quite emphatically that in receiving this challenge he has actually forgiven the Australian cricket team," Moxon said.

The Vatican team will be made up of seminarians and priests in Rome from countries with a cricket tradition - India, Pakistan, Australia, England, Bangladesh and New Zealand.

ECUMENICAL SPORTS

Asked if a combination of sports diplomacy and inter-religious dialogue could help improve relations between the two Churches, which split in 1534 when King Henry VIII broke with Rome, Moxon said: "It will introduce a conversation piece all over the world whenever Catholics and Anglicans get together," he said.

"I think it can only do good and increase the bonds of affection we have for each other."

The Vatican side will be coached by Brother K.M. Joseph, an Indian who trained a number of future test players while they were at schools run by his religious order in India.

The Vatican team will wear the official colours of the tiny city-state - yellow and white - and their jackets will have the seal of the papacy, two crossed keys.

By all accounts Pope Francis is not much of a cricket man. He still supports the San Lorenzo football club of his native Buenos Aires, who came to Rome this week to give him the league trophy they won last Sunday.

"But I think this is something that goes in line with one of the objectives of Pope Francis, which is to reach out and not stay within our own security zone," said O'Higgins.

The idea for a Catholic cricket club was the brainchild of John McCarthy, Australia's ambassador to the Vatican. He wanted to see something similar to the Clericus Cup, a soccer tournament among the religious colleges and seminaries of Rome.

Most of the practice for the Vatican team will take place on the grounds of seminaries in Rome but McCarthy, a cricket fanatic, said he had a dream.

"I would suggest that at least on one occasion there would be batting practice in front of St Peter's Basilica."

When a reporter suggested that, given the historical baggage both Churches are carrying, the umpire should perhaps be a Muslim, a Jew or even a atheist, Moxon laughed and said: "As long as he is fair."

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