When believing is not a taboo

Non-exhibited faith conveyed by football champions like Ronaldo and Rooney in Brazil's World Cup

It’s no longer the time when the holy water of Giovanni Trapattoni, trainer of European teams, was secretly poured near the bleachers. Faith is no longer a taboo, not even on soccer fields. A large number of World Cup champions express their faith in public: crooked signs of the Cross and Messianic-printed T-shirts are the signs of a religiousness which is lived off-scene, but which is not hidden. Aparecida, Compostela, Medjugorje… Italy’s national soccer team coach Cesare Prandelli announced that if Italy’s team qualified for the next round he would go to the Marian Shrine of Aparecida in Saint Paul with the team. The Italian team already went on pilgrimage in Wielickza, Poland, during the last European Cup. For Prandelli it has nothing to do with superstition. The Italian coach is a believer, and although he was always rather discreet about his religious life (“personal matters”), he never denied his deep bond with faith, especially during the difficult times of his mother’s illness. In 2010 Spanish soccer players Iniesta, Busquets e Torres left for Santiago de Compostela, while David Silva preferred the Marian shrine of Benaojan: thanksgiving pilgrimages for having won the World Cup. Croatia is another pilgrims’ team: its former coach Igor Stimac in May 2013 chose Medjugorje as the venue of the team’s retreat. A place for prayer rather than for coaching. Crucifixes and posters. In Croatia’s national team, goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa is a fervent devotee of Our Lady of Peace. Since his visit to the hill of the apparitions for spiritual retreat after a negative sport experience, the Croatian champion plays each match wearing a shirt with the face of the Virgin under his sport gear. A worshipper of Saint Rosa of Viterbo, Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci dedicated to the Saint his first national goal on September 3, the day of the festivity of the Patron Saint: “Only a native of the city of Viterbo can understand what it means – he wrote on Facebook – hooray for Saint Rosa!” Portuguese champion Ronaldo has a passion for crucifixes worn around his neck. He has a huge collection, which, he says, makes him feel closer to God”. Argentina, with the picture of the Pope hanging in the team’s retreat, is the only national soccer team that has the poster of one of its fans. Prayers, the “altar boy”. “Chicharito” Hernandez, Mexican champion of Manchester United is a strong believer: reportedly of utmost moral integrity (“He doesn’t drink and goes to sleep early”, his grandfather said in an interview), before each match the young striker kneels in prayer in the middle of the field. “I’m Catholic, I’m not ashamed to say so”, he said several times, repeating the same words that even his grandmother, who is also a fervent Catholic, repeated in moments of crisis: “The time of God is perfect, and God knows the times of each one”. The players in the Inter team have renamed 19-year-old Mateo Kovacic, Croatian young promise, the “altar boy”. He told the press that he always dedicates a prayer to his “blasphemous” teammates. “They know I’m a religious person, I try rebuking them, but if they want to continue using that language I can only but pray for them”. Among the Italian team, young Matteo Darmian not only attends Mass regularly, but also his sport formation owes a lot to the Catholic world, having made his first steps at the parish oratory of Rescaldina, on the outskirts of Milan. Priests who missed their vocation and conversions. As a child Wayne Rooney, attacker of the English team, wanted to become a priest and he always wore a rosary. The number 10 of the Lions tweets religious messages and prays often before the match, “I don’t pray for a goal, but for my health and for that of all those in the field”. Wesley Snejider, Dutch player, had a Road to Damascus experience. His militancy in Italy, in the Inter team, was decisive for his conversion to Catholicism. Having felt “involved” by the devotion of some of his companions, with the help of his captain, Argentinian player Zanetti, and of his future spouse Yolanthe Cabau, the Dutch player undertook a rapid path of catechesis so he could be baptised right before the 2010 World Cup. The compliments for Didier Drogba, star of the Cote D’Ivoire, arrived after the conquest of the Champions League with Chelsea. The attacker, which that evening actually “gave a blow” to the match, rejoiced by making the sign of the cross: “I believe and I pray a lot – was his declaration at the end of the match -, God is wonderful”.

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