Athletes representing the Pontifical North American College are one step closer to the 2009 Clericus Cup in a soccer tournament that pits teams of priests and students from various Roman seminaries against each other.
By a 4-3 victory on Wednesday the North American Martyrs defeated a mostly Brazilian squad of seminarians and priests from the Collegio Brasiliano e Orionino, Voice of America reports.
The priests and seminarians played on a field in Vatican City not far from St. Peter’s Basilica. They closed the game with a prayer.
The game was part of the Clericus Cup tournament, which takes inspiration from Pope John Paul II, a former goalie. The late Pope’s sports foundation, Italian sports authorities and the Vatican organize the annual tournament.
Explaining the North American team’s name of the Martyrs, one seminarian said: "Even when we lose, we win."
The team’s fight song ends with the cheer "N-A-C! Go Martyrs!"
Before Wednesday’s game, Victor Ingalls, a seminarian from Alabama, told Voice of America that Pope John Paul II encouraged priests to be as physically active as other men.
"John Paul II said, 'You know, the spiritual life is obviously important, but everything builds upon just the human being.' Like we're all human beings," he points out, "just like everyone else. We're just guys and just trying to do the Lord's will."
Charlie Gallagher, a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Washington who plays forward for the Martyrs, said the players hope to carry onto the field their off-field virtues and temperament.
"To keep peace of mind and charity of course," he said. "We still all play really hard. And we want to win with equal determination."
At times the games can become too heated. Last year an African priest earned a red card by throwing his shirt at the referee.
Fr. Dick Tomasek, the Martyrs’ spiritual director, told Voice of America that the game has many benefits for the young men, who spend hours studying and in silent prayer.
"I think they get a feeling of their wholeness. Body, mind and soul," he said. "The mind and soul are exercised all the time in their life, but the body is not. This gives them a sense of their wholeness, of their manhood."
He added that it would be desirable for the seminarians to return to their home parishes and start sports teams, reviving a neglected tradition.
Fr. Tomasek said he had been influenced as a student at his parish’s grade school in 1950s Iowa.
"We got this young priest who took off his black shirt and in his undershirt, played basketball with us during recess."
That was when the future Fr. Tomasek began to think he could be a priest.
"I saw a priest doing something, enjoying it, being good at it and playing with us."
The North American Martyrs will face the defending Clericus Cup champion team from Collegio Internazionale Maria Mater Ecclesiae on Saturday in the semi-finals, Voice of America reports.
During the regular season the Martyrs beat Mater Ecclesiae during a close game decided by a shoot-out.
The tournament finals will begin on May 23.