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The Pope, priests and the Clericus Cup

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  • The Clericus Cup is a football tournament for clergymen in and around The Vatican
  • Father David and Seminarist Mario chat to FIFA.com about the experience
  • Pope Francis met some of the players and blessed the trophy

Priests habitually spend weekends giving out Holy Communion, delivering sermons and hearing confessions.

Yet a staggering 359 of them didn’t turn up for duty repeatedly over the past nine weekends – in order to play football! And in the hub of the Catholic Church!

Don’t worry, though, the priests and seminarists had the blessing of their boss. Their big, big boss. A man who grew up kicking a ball around the streets of Buenos Aires, draped in a San Lorenzo jersey. No less than His Holiness Pope Francis.

The Clericus Cup – an 11-a-side competition for clergymen in The Vatican and encompassing Rome – has just put edition number 13 in its holy books. It was inaugurated by the Super Clericus Cup, which was the subject of an episode of Masterchef Italia. Two teams of priests, coached by celebrity chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo and esteemed restaurateur Joe Bastianich – judges on the hugely popular cooking show – faced off, while Masterchef contestants had to cook a meal for the clergymen.

Then 16 teams – eight comprising priests and another eight seminarists – including players of 67 nationalities battled it out for the trophy, which was blessed by Pope Francis.

“It was very different to my usual weekends,” Father David Palatino, chuckling, told FIFA.com. “I have always loved football.

”I started going to the Estadio da Luz when I was very little. I was a season-ticket holder at Benfica. I used to adore watching Joao Pinto and Rui Costa. They were my idols, so I wanted to become a footballer.

“I wasn’t brought up frequenting church. I come from a family of footballers. My father was a coach. My brother Marco played in the Portuguese third division. It was only when I was around 19 years old that I decided that I wanted to become a priest, and at 21 I entered the seminary.

“There’s a lot of work and study involved with being a priest. So the Clericus Cup is a wonderful experience for all of us. Sport is important to get out of your routine, to air the mind in a relaxed and decompressed environment, and to build friendships.

“And I must admit, the Clericus Cup dominated the conversation among us priests! It brought us that excitement, and that nervous feeling over whether you’re going to make the starting XI.

“And the Clericus Cup didn’t just involve the priests who played, but others too: other priests, rectors and nuns, who really enjoyed watching the matches and cheering us on. I even had friends come over from Portugal to watch matches.”

Those amigos saw Father David, a multifunctional midfielder, rocket home a wonder goal in Aleanza Luso-Brasiliana’s 2-1 victory over eventual bronze-medalists San Guanella e Amici. The squad comprising players from Brazil and Portugal, however, fell just shy of reaching the knockout phase.

One team that did, predictably, was Pontificio Collegio Urbano, who stormed into their sixth successive final. There – fielding players from nine different African nations, alongside South Korean Lee – a brace from Senegalese Badji and a goal from South African Ndlovu inspired a 3-0 victory over Sedes Sapientiae under the backdrop of The Vatican. It ensured the seminarists from the scenic Janiculum hill in Rome become the first four-time winners of the Clericus Cup, outranking Redemptoris Mater.

“It’s a great feeling to be champions,” Angolan defender Mario Pacheco told FIFA.com. “Last year we lost on penalties in the final.

“It was a difficult campaign, we had a lot of tough opponents to overcome, but we managed it. The Clericus Cup is played in really good spirits, everybody making friends.”

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There was another major highlight, however, for representatives from all 16 teams: they enjoyed a meet and greet with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Mario. “It will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Father David, a friend of Portugal coach Fernando Santos, added: “It was especially nice because it was almost informal. He was smiling, laughing. He chatted with us about the football, autographed balls and shirts for us, and even gave the ball a kick!”

An 82-year-old kicking a ball he’d blessed was a befitting ‘Amen’ to the captivating Clericus Cup.

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