London: Vatican's first-ever cricket team, dominated by Indians, has been blessed by Pope Francis, days ahead of facing a formidable Church of England XI during their maiden foreign tour.
Vatican's "underdog" cricket team was given an official blessing by the Pope yesterday during a private audience as it prepares to travel to Britain.
Argentina-born Pope Francis, who is a passionate football fan but knows little about cricket, signed a bat that the team will take with them during their five-match tour of England, which begins on Friday, The Telegraph reported.
41-year-old Father Tony Currer, captain of the Vatican side, is its only Englishman, according to a team list. Alongside him are seven Indians, two Sri Lankans and one Pakistani, aged between 24 and 41. Many of them young seminarians who are training to be priests.
The papal XI will play matches against chaplains of the British armed forces at Aldershot and the Royal Household Cricket Club at Windsor Castle, as well as two other games, before the climax of the tour ?- a showdown with a Church of England team in Canterbury on September 19.
Lining up for photographs on a shaded lawn overlooking St Peter's Basilica and the terracotta roofs of the Vatican City State, the team yesterday said they were looking forward to the unusual confrontation between the two faiths, nearly 500 years after Henry VIII provoked the schism between Canterbury and Rome.
Intimidating the opposition through sledging would not, however, be in the ecumenical spirit of the encounter, said Father Currer.
"Hopefully nothing will be picked up by the stump microphones but when you play you play to win," he was quoted as saying.
"We're going over there to beat them, to play to the maximum. But we'll certainly play in the spirit of the game," said Jery Njaliath, 36, a priest from Kerala.
"I don't think there'll be any sledging. When we are on tour we're representing Pope Francis and I don't think he would approve of that," he said.
Father Eamonn O'Higgins, the manager and "spiritual director" of the team, said: "We are the rank underdogs. None of us has played first class cricket. The boys have not had a lot of time to practice.
"Win or lose, the first cricket match in history between the Vatican and the Church of England will be an event to remember and to build on," O'Higgins added.