ROME — Upon winning the Vatican’s annual soccer championship last week, the victorious team honored Christians in Egypt who have faced increasingly brutal persecution in recent years.
“I would like to dedicate this trophy to our friends from the Coptic Church,” said Deacon Sama Joan Romeo of Cameroon, the team captain of the Urban Lions.
Catholic seminarians and clergy drew soccer teams from the pontifical universities and colleges of Rome May 27 for the 13th annual Clericus Cup competition.
The competition’s press officer, Felice Alborghetti, said the competition should be considered a “world cup” because players from five continents and 66 countries are on the teams, which went through four qualifying rounds to reach the finals.
“In the final we have at least 20 countries (represented),” he told the EWTN news show Vaticano. “There are a lot of Europeans, Spaniards, Romanians, Germans, a Croatian and a Hungarian player.”
African players are heavily represented on the team from the Pontifical Urban University, nicknamed “The Lions of Africa.” They hail from countries including Uganda, Cameroon, Tanzania and Botswana.
“All the world is playing in the field, not so much to highlight the word of soccer, as that of the Gospel,” Alborghetti said.
Over 400 players competed, but the May 27 finals came down to two teams: one from the Pontifical Gregorian University, called “Gregoriana,” the other from the Pontifical Urban University, the “Urban Lions.”
Classmates and fans of the teams gathered to show support in the bleachers around a field in view of St. Peter’s Basilica. Some wore painted faces and played guitars. The rectors of both schools cheered on their teams.
Monsignor Nuno da Silva Gonçalves, rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, reflected on the nature of the competition.
“We’re very committed to supporting our own team,” he told Vaticano. “Our university is trying to give thorough training programs, with a global and academic reach – which is very important to us – but also human and spiritual training and sport is part of this thorough approach.”
The players have also “sacrificed a lot to be here,” said Monsignor Vincenzo Viva, rector of the Urban College. “We mustn’t forget that it’s the exam period now at the university, so they’ve really made a great effort.”
Amid the festivities, the final match of 2017 began with a serious moment of prayer. Then the opening whistle blew.
The Urban Lions took advantage, scoring the first goal. With high passions, the bleachers roared. There were fouls and penalties. Then a corner kick led to a second goal for the Urban Lions.
They took the match, and the Clericus Cup, with a 2-0 win.
“We came here and we knew we could win because last year we almost won the cup, and anyway it was a great match and a match of brotherhood,” said Antonio, an Angolan and seminarian from the Urban College. “This is the joy of being here and taking part in all this.”
Pour Porbumbi, a Kenyan seminarian at the same college, noted the fans’ effort to sing and sing so that their team could play well.
Deacon Sama Joan Romeo added that the team is “not playing for honor or for any glory, we are just playing for friendship, for fraternity for our spiritual goals.”
The win marks the third time the Urban College’s team has won a Clericus Cup.