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Vatican to field its own cricket team, eyes Church of England match

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
October 23, 2013 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vatican announces the formation of St Peter's Cricket Club
  • The club hopes to field a team against the Church of England and other sides next year
  • Cricket "is something that covers many, many religions and ethnic groups," says Australian envoy
  • The side will play in the yellow and white Vatican colors, with the keys of St Peter as emblem

(CNN) -- With cups of tea and cucumber sandwiches at the ready, the Vatican has launched itself into the international sporting arena -- with the formation of the new St. Peter's Cricket Club.

Organizers hope the team will take on challengers from the Church of England and other faiths, while inspiring legions of believers and cricket fans around the world.

The refreshments were the backdrop to Tuesday's announcement of the club's formation by the Pontifical Council for Culture, with a little help from Australia.

John McCarthy, Australia's ambassador to the Holy See, has been a driving force behind bringing a game that he acknowledges is baffling to many to the Vatican.

"They were wondering what this 'cricket' is, as to whether it's a game, or an insect or both," he joked in an interview for Vatican Radio.

"But can I say that there was fairly ready recognition of the fact that there is a very prominent position by this sport in the East ... (and) in the English-speaking world, and that there are many priests and seminarians in Rome who have played cricket and want to play cricket.

Many in Rome would like to see their newly fledged team play the Church of England, McCarthy said.

He anticipates discussions soon aimed at arranging a match between the two sides in England -- a game that could prompt a rivalry not seen since the Church of England split from the Roman Catholic Church nearly 500 years ago.

Fans will no doubt hope that game is played at Lord's Cricket Ground in London, known as the home of cricket.

Members of the new club are expected to play in the yellow and white Vatican colors, with the keys of St. Peter as their emblem.

And both sides may end up praying for divine intervention if the umpire doesn't call in their favor.

McCarthy also sees the Vatican club as having a wider reach.

"Cricket as a sport is something that covers many, many religions and ethnic groups ... the Vatican could play the Hindus, they could play the Muslims, they could play the Sikhs," he told Vatican Radio.

"Internationally one would have a team that represented the Vatican, the Holy See, that was drawn from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies -- what an international team that would be.

"And it would obviously generate a lot of interest with the faithful who are both faithful to the church and faithful to cricket in various areas of the world."

Some students have already been warming up with a series of matches in Rome, McCarthy said. But the wider program is not expected to come into play until next year, when the club hopes to have a team ready for international sporting events.

And it's not just the priests who can get in on the sporting action. The organizers are also looking for nuns who may have wielded a cricket bat in the past to join a women's XI, or team.

"They are looking for Sri Lankan, Indian and Pakistani sisters who have played cricket, and if they are found, they certainly will be invited to join the cricket club," said McCarthy.

"There's certainly no intention not to have a women's cricket team at the Vatican."

CNN's Talia Kayali contributed to this report.

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