Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College in Rome have won the clerical equivalent of soccer’s World Cup for the first time ever.
“We are very happy. We did everything we could, and by the grace of God we got to this final game and we were able to play well,” said seminarian and team captain Nick Nelson in a May 12 interview with CNA, just moments after lifting the 2012 Clericus Cup.
The U.S. team beat the undefeated (3-0) Pontifical Gregorian University team thanks to one goal from Scottie Gratton and two from John Gibson.
“I thought we played really well,” Gibson said, right after the final whistle was blown. “We started out a little bit flustered with the nerves a bits. But we calmed down, we played our game, we just played simple and smart football. We worked really hard, so I think we played well.”
Now in its sixth year, the Clericus Cup in the annual soccer tournament for the pontifical seminaries and universities in Rome. The United States team goes by the name of the North American Martyrs. Despite two runner-up finishes in previous years, the Martyrs had never before won the title – until Saturday.
“We have trained twice a week, first semester and second semester,” said Nelson, who was a member of the runner-up squad in 2010.
“So, the guys give a lot and sacrifice a lot for the team, in order to get this far. We are definitely very grateful to God and proud of what we were able to do.”
Saturday’s final took place on the Knights of Columbus playing fields, which are located behind the Vatican and in the shadow of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
On the coaching bench for the United States team was the seminary rector, Monsignor James Checchio, along with Cardinal George Pell of Sydney. He was there to watch one of his own seminarians, Lewi Barakat, who impressed the crowd by providing assists for all three goals.
“We have a great team, we have great men, they have practiced hard and worked hard,” said Msgr. Checchio, “so, we are really proud of them.”
“They’re making a really good contribution to the Church now, and even more in the future. I have no doubt.”
As the referee blew the final whistle of the match, the U.S. team ran to greet their numerous and noisy fans, many of whom were dressed in costumes for the occasion.
“I think that God gives us a gift to work on being able to praise him through sport and through our bodies,” Gibson remarked.
“We work hard at being good Christians on the field but also trying to win, so it’s going to be a great opportunity to praise God for this win.”