"Cricket diplomacy" to boost Catholic-Anglican friendship
Pope Francis blesses the Vatican XI, the Holy See's first cricket team. Made up mostly of Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan seminarians, the team is set to travel to England where it will face off its Anglican counterpart in Canterbury.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Nearly 500 years after the schism between Canterbury and Rome, the Catholic and Anglican Churches are "challenging" each other again. A cricket match will provide the unusual occasion got the Vatican XI and the Anglican XI to play each other.

For the Vatican, this will be its first cricket team. Yesterday, Pope Francis blessed the players, most of whom are seminarians from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, countries where cricket is the national sport. The pontiff also signed one of the bats, which will be auctioned off for charity on eBay after the trip to England.

The tour will begin on 12 September. The Vatican XI will play against four other teams, before challenging the Anglican XI in Canterbury a week later, on the 19th.

The whole idea was the brainchild of His Excellency John McCarthy, Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, back in 2012.  Prior to coming to Rome, he was a trustee of the Sydney Cricket Ground.

On his new assignment, he explored whether there was any interest in having a cricket club for seminarians and priests at the Vatican and found it.

Thus, the St Peter's Cricket Club was launched in October last year, said Rev Dr Eamonn O'Higgins, the team's spiritual director and manager. "Ambassador McCarthy also proposed that the club consider challenging the Anglicans to a match in order to foster ecumenical relations and express support for the joint interfaith campaign to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking. This challenge was accepted by the Archbishop of Canterbury in December 2013".

In order to highlight the sporting event's ecumenical nature, the two teams will pray together in Canterbury Cathedral before the game, to remember the saints shared by both traditions and the many Christians who glorified God with their lives.

"We're going over there to beat them, to play to the maximum," said Jery Njaliath, 36, a priest from Kerala, "but we'll certainly play in the spirit of the game".

"Normally I am trying to agree with the Anglicans, not beat them," said Fr Anthony Currer, 41, the Vatican XI captain. Indeed, "If one of the boys gets hit in the face by a ball it could set back ecumenical relations by decades," he joked.