Tag Archive: Football


images (4)Today’s Saint – Saint Lawrence – is famous as a deacon in Rome.  As a deacons in the early church, Lawrence had the responsibility for the material goods of the Church & distributing alms to the poor.  In the third century when the Roman emperor ordered the death of the Pope, the prefect then ordered for the churches goods to be handed over. When St. Lawrence was asked for the treasures of the Church he brought forward the poor, among whom he had divided the treasure as alms.”Behold in these poor persons the treasures which I promised to show you; to which I will add pearls and precious stones, those widows and consecrated virgins, which are the church’s crown.”

images (1)When reading this I though of the commitment to the poor of Pope Francis – like Lawrence his faith was rooted in the daily struggle of the people he lived with.   It is a rooted faith – and then of course I thought of his football team San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence).   It is great to hear that he is keeping his membership up (reminding me to renew my Liverpool membership card!).   Like many football teams San Lorenzo’s roots are actually ecclesial.   San Lorenzo was formed by a group of kids that used to play football in the corner of two busy  streets of Buenos Aires.  Due to the increasing traffic in the city, playing football at the streets became a risky activity for the boys. Fr Lorenzo Massa, the priest of the neighbourhood’s church, saw how a tram almost knocked down one of the boys while they were playing in the streets. As a way to prevent more accidents, he offered the boys to play in the church’s backyard, under the condition they had to go to mass on Sundays.  Wanting to call the club after him the priest denied to be honoured that way. Nevertheless, the name was finally accepted by the priest, explaining that the name would not honour himself but , St Lawrence of Rome

images (3)Pope Francis still pays his annual membership fee – and so proud of their fan becoming the Pope – San Lorenzo recently took to the pitch with his face replacing the advertising on their shirts.  A faith that is rooted and close to the passions of the people – that reminds us that God is close to us in all things.   A faith that shares the passions of many. The 34rd General Congregation of the Jesuits published a decree on our mission and culture – at one point it says  “(as Jesuits) …. We have sometimes sided with the “high culture” of the elite in a particular setting: disregarding the cultures of the poor and sometimes, by our passivity, allowing indigenous cultures or communities to be destroyed”  ….. On a final note I recommend a great book called ‘Thank God for Football’ by Wirral author Peter Lupson – he traces the roots of  Aston Villa, Barnsley, Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Queen’s Park Rangers, Southampton, Swindon Town and Tottenham Hotspur all back to churches and priests / ministers!

Faith in & of the Police

AMDG

Driving into Manchester 10 days ago to drop off my stuff turned out to be a very eventful journey.  My brother and I were riveted to the radio listening to the findings Independent Hillsborough report (click here).  Many friends were involved in the crush at that Liverpool match in 1989, but thankfully no close friends were among the 96 who died, although we knew some of the victims.  As has been known on Merseyside for a long while, but now thankfully by the rest of the world, the subsequent smearing of the fans could well be the biggest cover up in British history lead by South Yorkshire Police.  However as is often the case, out of tragedy and suffering some good has come, including a solidarity with other fans, the beautiful gestures by United at Anfield on Sunday and dignified leadership by Alex Ferguson. So with mixed and strong emotions, my twin brother (an Evertonian) and I arrived in Manchester.  The radio coverage was riveting but one thing that distracted our attention was driving past a huge video screen that was offering a £50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a man called Dale Cregan.

Three days later this man, whose face seemed to be all over Manchester, shot dead two unarmed policewomen and then walked into a police station to give himself up.  Acts of wanton destruction and evil like this are always disorienting and confusing.  After a week of anger towards the police for the Hillsborough cover-up, these killings put policing back into perspective.  It is unprecedented for two police women to be killed, and the worst police deaths since the 60′s. But again amidst all the shock, healing started to happen from an unusual source. The Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police in an interview talked about how his faith was helping him.  This is what Sir Peter Fahy, a Catholic, said

“I think a lot of us feel passionately that policing is a vocation. It is a calling. I feel that in terms of my own faith but I know a lot of officers that don’t have a faith, but feel exactly the same – that it is a vocation, that it’s not just a job and I think that’s almost what you go back to in difficult times and difficult circumstances that how unfair something may feel, how inadequate you may feel you do actually rely on that you’re doing your best, and that this is your vocation. The chance for me personally to be able to, every day, to have bit of quiet time, pray, think about your own values, your own sense of vocation, and to examine your own conscience I think is really, really important…… For me personally and a lot of people of faith, prayer is important… you do often feel so helpless, so praying for the dead officers, praying for their families, becomes your own reaction, your own expression of hope really for them, at a time of great need.”

Very powerful words – particularly at a time when there strong pressures to silence the religious voice in the public sphere, or to portray faith as being the realm of bigots and fundamentalists.   It also made me think – would the interview have been picked up elsewhere in the country or is this a fruit of the BBC relocation to Salford?   There is much to reflect on what he said about the healing power of prayer, but maybe more importantly what he also said about examining your conscience.  If only more of the South Yorkshire Police had engaged in that activity more regularly.

Limit to what money can buy

AMDG

Hotel Klosterbrau – former monastery turned 5-star hotel

A great story yesterday about the richest football team in the world, Manchester City being thwarted by a priest!  The club, the newly crowned English Champions, are bank rolled by their owner Sheik Mansour the emir of Abu Dhabi.  They have spent around £250,000  on their pre-season high-altitude training camp in the Austrian village of Seefeld.  They are staying in a five-star hotel which is a former monastery. There has been three months’ preparation to make sure everything on the trip is perfect. The players, management and staff have taken over the top three floors of the hotel with their own private dining room, gym and massage area. They have even asked for specific high-density mattresses and summer duvets in all of their 54 double suites. The hotel had the mattresses hand-made and imported from an expert in Rome at a cost of around €1,000 per room!  They have also brought in its own chefs to prepare the food, with fresh fish flown in every two days from the Atlantic and North Sea.

The former monastery still has an active Catholic Church attached to it.  But here City found out that their spending power has limits!  The Hotel Manager said: “They wanted to ask the priest to switch off the bells of the church attached to the hotel. “The bells are ringing at 7 in the morning, 8 in the morning, and 9 in the morning.” Quite rightly the priest said No! ….. and he’s not even a United fan!!  So City can buy the Premier League Trophy but even they have found there are limits to what their money can buy.  As the Mastercard advert  might have said….

Pre Season Training Camp…..  £250,000

Hand Made Mattresses ………       £54,ooo

Fresh Fish flown in ……………       £ 28,ooo

Waking up to bells calling the faithful to mass as it has done for 500 years ….. Priceless !

AMDG

Most people here in the UK are getting very excited about having a Scot in the Wimbledon Final. The first British Male for 74 years but there is also a lot of debate about the significance of Andy Murray’s post match celebrations (left).  He has been making what appears to be a religious gesture at the end of every game this tournament. Intriguing…… This gesture of pointing up to heaven at the moment of victory or when scoring a goal seems to becoming more frequent in top level sport. As far as I aware, in recent times it was started by Kaka, the brilliant Brazilian midfield playmaker, who admitted in frequent interviews that it was a significant religious gesture.  Kaka, who suffered a career-threatening and possibly paralysis-inducing spinal injury at the age of 18, remarkably made a full recovery. He attributes his recovery to God and has since tithed his income to his church.  Thanks to Kaka, I had a lot of material for assemblies and masses with schoolboys over the last few years – there is something truly inspiring about giving thanks to God and remembering Him in the heat and emotion of triumph, especially in football when a goal comes so quickly and sometimes out of the blue.  Another recent exemplar would be Chelsea’s, Frank Lampard.  His pointing to heaven began in the immediate aftermath of his mothers death, so is more of an ‘in memoriam’ than an ‘amdg’ (giving glory to God).  I don’t know if he is still continuing it, because quite honestly I try not to pay much attention to Chelsea.  A similar in-memoriam gesture is made by David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox.  Unlike Lampard and Murray, Kaka wears his faith on his sleeve, or literally on his boots, which are embossed with the words  ‘Jesus in first place’.  His ‘I belong to Jesus’ t-shirts, and thanksgiving prayers have been seen by audiences of billions after the World Cup 2002 win, and the Champions League 2007 victory for AC Milan, which as a Liverpool fan I avoided, as I was in mourning.  In the UK people have a phobia about overt religiosity, so we tend to be more reserved. When Murray was asked about his celebrations he  said: “Well it’s something for me and the guys that I work with. I don’t really want to go into too much detail because I’ll end up getting asked about it every single day.” When asked to explain whether or not it had anything to do with religion, Murray stood his ground. “Whether it is or not, I’m not going to tell anyone,” he said.

The Holy Goalie Artur Boric

There is another category of religious gesture at major sporting events best represented by making the sign of the cross. In football it is often seen as players run onto the pitch, or prepare to take a penalty.  Occasionally it is made as a gesture of thanksgiving after a goal is scored. This belongs to a different category to the gesture of ‘reverence’ of Kaka et al.  Cynics or the secular minded would say this is mere superstition, asking God to help you win, or the more legitimate prayer to keep you safe from harm. However a wise member of the community today told me over breakfast that it was technically an apotropaic - a gesture intended ‘to turn away harm’. A truly superstitious form of this is knocking on wood or crossing your fingers. The gesture of blessing yourself with the sign of the cross is identified with Catholicism, or if it is from right to left Orthodox ( a la Djokovic – who has been awarded the highest honour by the Serbian Orthodox Church).  Seeing great sportsmen do this can inspire devotion, indifference or occasionally hostility.  The Italian forward Marco Negri was asked to stop blessing himself by Rangers as it was seen as provocative to the anti-Catholic crowd.  The next goal he scored his celebration involved him holding his wrists together as though they were manacled. The devout Polish goalkeeper for Celtic, Artur Boruc,  would bless himself and pray before kick off every game. This was interpreted as a provocative gesture by Rangers fans rather than a simple act of prayer.  In fact former Rangers player and current Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson asked Mexican Striker Javier Hernandez to abandon his pre-match Catholic prayer when Man United play Rangers. Hernandez, who is deeply religious, kneels on the centre spot and prays before kick off in every game he starts.

The behaviour of such influential sports figures is often over-reported, dissected and picked over by everyone. But such overt gestures of faith are refreshing and uplifting.  Much better that Gazza’s ‘dentists chair’ celebration which glorified a binge drinking culture that was to lead to his demise or Robbie Fowler pretending to snort the white line on the pitch, even if it was an ‘ironic’ gesture to false drug allegations.  So come on Murray – man up – tell us the reason behind your celebration! :)

AMDG

No Ambulance, No Doctor but a photographer on hand…….. “He was taken aside and given a key to hold as we felt he had an attack of fits. There was no ambulance around but we gave him some basic first aid.’’ Mahesh (Physio) From Deccan Herald

The news this morning from Bangalore was a sharp contrast from the weekend’s news in England. A young footballer yesterday died on the pitch of a cardiac arrest (click here). In England everybody has been relieved to see Fabrice Muamba begin his recovery, with the incongruous sight of Premiership footballers calling people to prayer. Here in India the family of Venkatesh Dhanraj are mourning and stunned that he died so suddenly and with no medical facilities to resuscitate him. His father said “After he collapsed on the ground, I knew something was wrong. The referee noticed it and called for medical attention. But, I saw no one. Forget an ambulance, it’s a luxury for football players in Bangalore, there was no stretcher and no doctor.” The league has been suspended with the Karnataka State Football Association accusing Bangalore District of breaking rules on medical provision. Shockingly it is the second death at the stadium in 8 years, after the Brazilian striker Cristiano Junior. Perspective is so often lost with sport…. but these tragedies out it right back into perspective. I was reading Alex Ferguson praising the rapid reaction of the medical staff at the Tottenham / Bolton game where Muamba collapsed. Money is clearly the difference.

the call to prayer……

Unfortunately not all medically trained understand their work as vocation but more as a career. Fr Eric the Jesuit director here in Manvi trapped a nerve in his leg two days ago. In great pain he rushed to the nearest hospital in Raichur (80kms away) and the doctor after a cursory inspection suggested an operation which would cost 50,000Rupees ($700). This seemed ridiculous so Eric went to Mangalore (200kms away) to the Catholic Hospital where his sister works – he had an MRI scan for 2000 rupees and was discharged after the nerve had slipped back in to place. As long as unscrupulous doctors are just working to get as much money as quickly as possible then the idea of public service takes a backseat. This is why an education system that inculcates the values of service, especially for the least is so important and the only way to transform a country. Two of the Dalit children here told me that their dream is to become doctors…. I hope they make it and remember the love and care they have experienced here at the Xavier High School in Manvi.

AMDG

The newspapers in the Phillipines have all had David Beckham on the cover the last couple of days. He is in town to play a game – but is doing impressive work for UNICEF too.  His LA Galaxy beat the Philippine National  team (the Azkals) 6-1, and as he left the pitch after 70 mins he handed his shirt to a certain Manny Pacquio who was in the crowd.  It is a testament to Beckhams global appeal that he even seems to outshine Pacquio. Well who outshines Beckham? Well for devotion in Asia – Saturday was the feast day of St Francis Xavier – close friend of Ignatius and great missionary to Asia. His voyages are now legendary – and his popularity as a saint seems to be universal – he is truly an A-Lister!   His popularity can be measured by the amount of institutions, schools, parishes, universities, centers that are named after him.  Perhaps an even more impressive legacy is the impact of his name – Xavier is the name of his home ‘town’ or estate.  Just think about how many people you know who are named after him, Javier – Xavi – Xavier – Javi.

The Madonna and Child in Glory with Saints Ignatius of Loyola and Xavier – Pacecco de Rosa

In honour of the feastday – ignoring the big game – we tertians were invited on Saturday night to the Xavier school in Manila.  As well as celebrating mass, a very generous dinner was laid on – and the highlight of the dinner was the  presentation of a painting to the Jesuit Community and College of Francis Xavier.  The benefactors and donors of the painting – the D.Campos family (former students) -were attending an auction of Princess Diana’s goods on behalf of the Spencer Familyat Christies in London. This painting of Francis Xavier and Saint Ignatius with the Madonna and child caught their eye, it is an original by Pacceco de Rosa and it was bought  at an auction .  In a commemorative postcard given to is all said May we have the burning zeal to bring everyone to the Lord. 

The Devotion to Francis in Asia transcends religious groups.  I still have fond memories of taking a group of students from Wimbledon to Goa.  We were given permission to celebrate mass in beautiful Jesuit Church (and UNESCO site) the Bom Jesu – but had to wait about half an hour.  The reason we had to wait was that a Japanese goverment minister was visting the chapel.  It is a very popular place of pilgrimage in Asia as the chapel holds the glass casket where St Francis’s incorrupt body is on display.  The Japanese minister, not a Christian, had traveled all the way to Goa after a ministerial meeting in Dehli just to pay his respects.  The Body of Francis is brought down for veneration every 10 years and millions travel to Goa (Christians & non Christians) to venerate this holy man. Amongst Jesuits, Xavier is treasured for many reasons,  his successful missionary work, his capacity of inculturation, the beautiful letters written to Ignatius and distributed throughout Europe. He was sent by Ignatius to the ‘Indies’ as a last-minute replacement for Bobadilla, who had suddenly fallen ill. The very next day he packed up his things to leave Rome for Lisbon never to see Europe or his beloved Ignatius again.  This freedom of spirit, ‘availability for mission’ and generosity is what we are asked to live up to.

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