SHAFAQNA – Extending bridges of interfaith relations, a Muslim cricket team will be travelling to Rome to play against Vatican next October 17.
“We now have a trip to Rome to play the Pope’s team to look forward to in October. A brilliant way to finish the season,” the Yorkshire Mount Cricket Club, formed in 1976, posted on its Twitter account, Telegraph reported on Thursday, October 1.
The Vatican team is made up of seminarians, or trainee priests, who are studying in Rome. The majority are from the Indian sub-continent.
Last autumn they played the Royal Household at Windsor and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s XI.
The fixture against the Yorkshire team will “gather together players and spectators in friendship, energy, good competition and a desire to win,” said Father Robert McCulloch, an Australian priest and a founding member of the Vatican team.
Along with the game, the Muslim team will be invited to Mass in St Peter’s Basilica and will be able to visit the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums.
Pope Francis is known as a passionate soccer fan but knows little about cricket.
Relations between Muslims and the Vatican strained in 2006 after late pope Benedict quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor that everything Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) brought was evil and inhuman.
Benedict had repeatedly said the words did not reflect his personal views but stopped short of a clear apology to Muslims.
The pontiff’s remarks had prompted Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, to halt dialogue with the Vatican.
Relations hit new ebb after the pope said Christians in the Middle East were facing persecution following a church attack in Egypt.
At the time, Al-Azhar said it would cut ties with the Vatican over Benedict’s “repeated treatment of Islam in a negative way.”
Francis, who succeeded Benedict in March 2013, has succeeded in relaxing much of the strained relations.