By Ann Schneible
ROME, MAY 11, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Priests and seminarians from the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) and students from the Pontifical Gregorian University will be facing off Saturday in the Clericus Cup finals, concluding this year's annual soccer tournament here in Rome.
Since the beginning of March, roughly 350 seminarians and priests from more than 70 countries have been competing with each other. Beginning six years ago in Rome, the Clericus Cup unites Roman Colleges and Pontifical Universities in competitive soccer.
An added incentive for the PNAC players this Saturday is that their goalkeeper and team manager, Dan Gallagher, a seminarian from the Diocese of Pittsburg, is out of the match due to an injury.
"In some ways we're going to try and win it on his behalf," explained Manchester, England, native Mark Paver, who is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of New York. "It'll be a little extra incentive for us all."
Although they are competing with last year's Clericus Cup winner, the PNAC players feel confident about tomorrow's match.
"We have made the final before," Paver went on, "so it's not an exceptional season in that sense; out of the six years, this is the third time we've made the final, so we're actually on a par at the moment with the other teams. We want to go beyond what the other teams have done in the past this weekend."
"The ironic thing is that both Justin and I attend the Gregorian University, as do another five or six guys. There aren't any mixed loyalties on our part, but it does create an interesting environment."
Having the opportunity to engage in competitive sport, moreover, works naturally into these young men's seminary formation. "It's just a great way to grow in community spirit, as a group of men studying for the priesthood, in a normal form of recreation," he went on. "We all enjoy it; it brings us together as a group. It brings the house together as well; we also get a lot of support from people who are not on the team, so it becomes a focal point for the house. It's just a way to express ourselves and use the gifts that God has given us to be honest, a really good opportunity to do something fun, and enjoy the gifts that we have."
Justin Blanc, seminarian for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, also gave his thoughts on competing while also studying for the priesthood.
"I guess I would be one of those people who would be happily surprised that you can still do things like play soccer as a seminarian or as a priest," he shared, explaining that it was not until the end of his time at college that he began to consider entering seminary.
“I think it can be surprising or refreshing for young men," he explained, "to realize that seminarians and priests do things like play soccer too; it's a great and healthy outlet for recreation. It's a way that a lot of people can identify with through sport; to see guys who are giving their lives to the service of the Church, trying to follow Christ and also having fun in this very human way can be inspiring to young men."