Pope Cup 2014: Why football is the Catholic Church of sports
If you haven’t already, check out the hashtags #holywar and #PopeVsPope. The internet is in a tizzy over the prospect of Sunday’s final World Cup match, which will pit Argentina against Germany – which happen to be the home countries of Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, respectively. The jokes and memes started within minutes of Argentina’s win against the Netherlands Wednesday:
Dream World Cup final viewing party scenario: kicking it with Pope Benedict XVI (a German) and Pope Francis (an Argentine). #popevspope— Brandon Curry (@BrandoCurry) July 9, 2014
(via Catholic Hipster)
Francis is a longtime fan of the Argentinian team, and Benedict has praised the sport of football – that’s soccer, my fellow Americans – as “a vehicle of education for the values of honesty, solidarity and fraternity, especially for the younger generation” and “a tool for the teaching of life's ethical and spiritual values.”
Unfortunately, anyone hoping for a non-Photoshop image – or better yet, a video – of Francis and Benedict watching the final match is likely to be disappointed. While the Vatican says Pope Francis “might want to watch” the finals, Benedict is emphatically not interested.
“It's really not his thing, he is not a fan,” an unnamed Vatican source told the Agence France Presse. “It would be like inflicting an infinite penitence on him at the age of 87. He has never been able to watch a football match from beginning to end in his life.”
Even so, the world is wondering how the two holy men’s prayers might impact the results.
Pope Francis has pledged absolute neutrality in his World Cup prayers, promising not to pray for the Argentinian team to win. And at World Youth Day in Brazil in 2013, he told youth in the World Cup host country that “Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup.”
Still, the special attention being paid to the Catholic Church in these final, exciting days of the World Cup seems oddly apt for a sport beloved by billions of people all over the world, representing every continent and almost every tongue. In some ways, football is the Catholic Church of sports. Think about it – you can put a thousand different Catholics from a hundred different countries who speak a dozen different languages at the same Mass, and regardless of what language the prayers are recited in, everyone will understand precisely what it going on, and know exactly what to do.
It’s the same with the World Cup. Thousands of people from a multitude of diverse cultures have descended upon Brazil this month, all to witness and celebrate the same thing. In the end, the universality of football is, perhaps, equaled only by the universality of the Church.