Pope Francis has give his blessing to the Vatican’s international cricket team as it prepares to take on the Church of England.
The side of Catholic priests are preparing for their first tour to England, which will include a match with the Church of England XI in Canterbury.
Pope Francis, who is a supporter of Buenos Aires football side San Lorenzo, put on a cricket cap and signed a bat that the team will take with them during their tour of England, which begins on Friday.
After the tour the bat will be auctioned in order to raise money for a joint Catholic and Anglican campaign against modern-day slavery and indentured labour, the Global Freedom Network, the Vatican said.
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.
Then in Canterbury on September 19 the team will take on the Anglican XI.
Team captain Father Tony Currer, 41, a former club player from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, said his players who are all from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, had not had much chance to train as they have been away for the summer.
He said: “We’ve not had as much practice as we’d like but we played some games in May and June. But we are absolutely full of enthusiasm, even though some of the team have never played on grass before.”
He said the Pope had prayed with them and blessed them. He added: “I don’t know if –as an Argentinian- he understands the game. He can’t know everything.”
The idea for the team came from the Australian ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, a former member of the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust.
Organiser Richard Rouse said that the team was not certain of victory but “we are confident of playing a game of cricket.” He added: “It’s been an encounter of English mentality with Italian mentality with a lot of joys and graces and frustrations to get this thing off the ground.”