Posted by Joe Smith
03/10/2014

sport-ecumenism-and-development

On Friday 19 September, two powerhouses of world religion entered the sporting arena in Canterbury, England to decide once and for all which is best at cricket. On its Light of Faith tour, a visiting Vatican XI took on an Anglican XI in a match, the like of which has never been seen before.

Almost 500 years after the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII saw the two churches go their separate ways, this is the first time that they have met on the cricket pitch. The game was brought to a nail-biting close with the Church of England team edging out the visiting St. Peter's side with just 5 balls to spare.

"Obviously the right side were the winners, that goes without saying", commented part-time team mascot and full time Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. But despite the cup final atmosphere, it was actually of little import who came out on top. Regardless of their denominational differences, the game was played in great spirit and for a good cause. Both teams had come together to raise money for the Global Freedom Network, a charity which combats human trafficking and modern slavery. The proceeds show the good two churches can do when working together.

Despite taking place within the privileged confines of middle England, this event’s ecumenical message is relevant the world over. Across the Atlantic, Nicaragua has a history of religious and social discord that has long stymied development. Although it is predominantly a Christian nation, Nuevas Esperanzas has discovered first hand the difficulty of engaging one denomination in projects that also affect another. It is not uncommon to find Evangelicals unwilling to work alongside Catholics, or even to see Baptists suspicious of other Baptists from different branches of the church.

You may be hard pressed to find a Nicaraguan who can explain cricket’s LBW rule, but development organisations working in such divided nations should still take note. In 2011 a Nuevas Esperanzas side made its baseball debut in a triangular tournament against teams from Agua Fría and El Ojochal – two communities with a history of social division. This event was something of a one off and it is more common to see Community Coordinator, Rolando Castillo, engaging families in lively debate than making a dash for first base. But activities such as this play an important role in building bridges, developing teamwork and encouraging community pride.

Social and ecumenical work alone will not put food on the plates of the hungry, or money in the pockets of the poor. But learning what can be achieved when differences are set aside is an important place to start.