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Athletes from around the world recently came together in Vancouver, British Columbia, for the Winter Olympics.
The same will happen in June in South Africa during the World Cup soccer tournament.
What takes place between now and then in international sports competition?
How about the Clericus Cup?
Now in its fourth year, the Clericus Cup is a soccer tournament in Rome where seminarians and priests from 65 countries around the world form 16 teams that compete on a field almost literally in the shadow of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
It may be a little hard to follow, though. No television network will be broadcasting this tournament. But it has created a buzz at lots of Roman seminaries.
And for the first time, a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is a member of the North American Martyrs, the team of the Pontifical North American College, where dioceses from the United States and Canada send seminarians who receive priestly formation in Rome.
Martin Rodriguez, a first-year seminarian at the North American College, is excited about representing the Church in central and southern Indiana during the tournament.
“It feels really awesome to be coming from Indianapolis, a small part of the world, and really be part of a big tournament like this,” he said in a telephone interview with The Criterion. “At least for us seminarians and priests, this is something that we look forward to.”
The tournament is a popular topic at many seminaries in Rome, said Rodriguez, a member of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis.
“It definitely gives me a feeling for the universal Church coming together,” he said. “At school, for example, we have a lot of guys from religious orders and from other countries. And everybody talks about the Clericus Cup. You hear about it everywhere—in the classrooms, in the bathrooms, everywhere. Everyone is just so excited.”
But just as a tournament like the Clericus Cup can bring seminarians from around the world together, it also brings with it the temptation for them to set themselves against each other. Rodriguez said it is a challenge to live out one’s faith on the playing field.
“I remember a priest telling me once that the real seminarian comes out on the court or on the field,” he said. “Many times, in the chapel it’s easy for seminarians to be pious and appear to be really holy.
“But when it comes to places where you’re put forward with all of your emotions, with all of your passion, it’s kind of difficult to live a Christian life that should reflect [our faith]. But on the field, we have that chance to be a seminarian, even [there]. It’s a great opportunity.”
While he is a member of the Martyrs, Rodriguez hasn’t faced that test yet, not having played in the team’s first two matches.
“We have a lot of talent on our team. I’m just happy that we won,” he said after the team’s opening 4-3 victory over a Brazilian team in an overtime shootout. “Hopefully, in the [future] I’ll be able to go in and get some minutes.”
If he does get to play, Father Robert Robeson is confident that Rodriguez will play well.
As rector of Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis, Father Robeson oversaw Rodriguez’s priestly formation during the past four years.
Last year, Rodriguez was the seminary’s athletic director, organizing pick-up games in various sports and leading its soccer team in an annual inter-seminary tournament at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.
“He had a contagious enthusiasm, and did a lot to build community and to boost morale and get guys active,” Father Robeson said. “He was a real leader.”
That leadership extended beyond the playing field.
“Martin is a very good and talented guy in a lot of ways,” Father Robeson said. “He was really the primary leader of the seminary in his senior year. He was a stand-out. He had been here for four years, and had grown in maturity and holiness. And guys recognize that.”
Father Robeson, who played American football at Washington University in St. Louis, said that the seminarians’ involvement in sports can help them value fraternity and camaraderie among themselves.
The North American Martyrs did this in the days leading up to their first match this year by watching the 1981 soccer movie Victory together.
“We pray together before the game, and we also eat together on at least one night during the week,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just a great time to spend time with a lot of people from different places and being united by two things—seminary and soccer.”
Rodriguez said competing in sporting events can hone the leadership skills that future priests will need in their ministries.
“You need a lot of discipline to be part of a team, not only to deny something to yourself in taking care of what you’re eating and how much exercise you’re putting into the practices, but also just the relationships that you have to build with the other guys,” he said. “You don’t want to mistreat them when they do something wrong in the game. Again, you try to live a Christian life in and outside the chapel.”
Rodriguez and his teammates on the North American Martyrs want to win the Clericus Cup this year after having come up short last year, losing in the finals.
“I think this is our year,” Rodriguez said. “From what I hear from the guys, ever since the Cup started, they’ve been really trying to get it home here. And this year, it looks like it will be with us. We’re really aiming for it. That’s our goal, and we hope to get it.” †