Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters
A player from a team of priests and seminarians prepares to return a ball during a training session at the Maria Mater Ecclesiae's Catholic College in Rome on Tuesday.
They usually go to bat for the Lord but now a team of priests and seminarians from the Vatican is aiming for sporting heaven with the launch of a new cricket team on Tuesday.
Like their fisherman namesake, the St. Peter’s Cricket Club is casting the net far and wide for the best batsmen and bowlers to represent them at the sport, which remains obscure to much of the globe -- including Italy and the Vatican -- but is beloved by former parts of the British empire like the Indian subcontinent and Australia.
Richard Rouse, spokesperson at the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Vatican body that sponsors sporting activities in the Holy See, told NBC News that the ultimate aim was to play a Church of England team at London’s Lord’s Cricket Ground, the spiritual home of the game.
“Lord’s is the pilgrimage site for cricket fans, so we hope to get to play there soon,” he said. “We are starting with small steps by institutionalizing all those games that are already being played in the seminars' backyards.”
“Some say cricket is the most followed sport in the world as it’s popular in many subcontinent nations such as India, Pakistan, Australia and South Africa,” he added.
In response to the challenge from his Catholic counterparts, the Church of England's Rt. Revd Mark Rylands said his Diocese of Lichfield team would welcome a game.
"I am delighted to hear of the formation of St. Peter's Cricket Club and look forward to welcoming them to England as brothers," Ryland said. "We do not have a national team at present but I'm confident that it will be possible for an annual fixture to be played in the spirit of ecumenism."
"He added that he hoped the sport's customary trash-talking among players, known as "sledging," would be kept to a minimum.
The search for St. Peter's team members will begin with a tournament between pontifical colleges in and around Rome to be be played in November on a pitch nearby one of the city’s airports.
The best 11 players will get to wear the white and yellow uniform of the official Holy See’s flag to represent the Catholic Church worldwide.
“There are already 300 potential cricket players here in Rome, young men from those nations who came to study or work in congregations or religious orders in Rome,” Rouse said.
While the club will be a team made of amateurs at first, it can already count on the support of the potential fan-base of a billion Catholics from around the world, he added.
Championing sports is nothing new for the Holy See, which organizes a yearly soccer tournament for priests and seminarians called the Clericus Cup. The undisputed winners of the last two editions are the North American Martyrs.
“We can’t stop people from praying for us to win,” Rouse said.