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A sports perspective on the Pope's visit to America

A sports perspective on the Pope's visit to America
As Pope Benedict XVI arrives on U.S. soil for his first pastoral visit here since ascending to the Papacy, it's clear that sports, the Vatican and Catholicism have long been intertwined:

  • Benedict XVI, formerly German Joseph Ratzinger, is an intellectual and a musician, not an acclaimed sportsman as was Pope John Paul II before him. John Paul II was an avid football player in his youth (a goalkeeper) who later became an honorary member of FC Barcelona, BV Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04. The Poland native's favorite football team had always been Cracovia Krakow, whose games he attended while living there.

  • The Harlem Globetrotters visited John Paul II at the Vatican in November, 2000 and named the Pontiff an Honorary Harlem Globetrotter.

  • Among the 9,000-12,000 people invited by President Bush to the White House for Benedict XVI's welcome ceremony on Wednesday, April 16 (also his 81st birthday) is Los Angeles Dodger legend and devout Catholic Tommy Lasorda, who also celebrates his 81st birthday this year. Lasorda called John Paul II "a tough, tough Pope" during an interview on "The Daily Show" following that Pontiff's death.

  • Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass at the new Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. on April 17 (estimated crowd 48,000). On April 20, after visiting Ground Zero, Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass at New York's Yankee Stadium in front of a projected 60,000.

  • This isn't the first time that Mass has been celebrated at Yankee Stadium: Pope Paul VI celebrated Mass there in 1965, and John Paul II continued the tradition in 1979. John Paul II went on to celebrate Mass at San Francisco's Candlestick Park during the same pastoral trip.

  • The largest crowd ever to fill a stadium in the U.S. was there for religious rather than sports-viewing purposes — but the gathering didn't involve a Pope. In 1963, the Reverend Billy Graham drew 134,000 followers to the Los Angeles Coliseum, considerably more than the 115,300 people who watched the Dodgers play the Boston Red Sox there in March.

  • There are 70 million Catholics in the United States, most of whom list basketball, football or soccer as their favorite sport. Sports remain an integral part of the Catholic educational experience, which emphasizes nurture of the body as well as the mind and soul.

  • Everyday Catholics aren't alone in their love of sport. In Rome, priests and seminarians hold annual soccer and basketball tournaments in which teams compete for the "Clericus Cup." The tournaments are organized by the Centro Sportivo Italiano, a Christian organization that promotes education through sport.

  • The Clericus Cup soccer competition began its second season in November, with 16 teams vying to advance to the May 3 final match. Though they otherwise follow standard international soccer rules, Clericus Cup matches last only 60 minutes; referees flash a blue card to temperamental players to send them to a "sin bin" for five minutes to calm down.

  • It was widely rumored in late 2006 that the Vatican was considering launching a professional soccer team that would play in Italy's top soccer league. UEFA examined the viability of such a team, but a senior cardinal nixed the idea.

  • A skiing competition for about fifty priests also took place in Italy in February. The contest, the ninth edition of the Priests' National Ski Championship, was held under the motto "May the Lord ski with you."

  • In the Dominican Republic, Catholic nuns are among the growing female population of "buscones," or freelance baseball scouts, looking to identify lucrative Dominican talent long before the MLB scouting age minimum of 16. Buscones regularly pocket 30 percent or more of a player's pro signing bonus.

  • Author:Fox Sports
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    Added: April 16, 2008

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