Lessons in faith at Euro 2020 – The B.C. Catholic


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July 28, 2021

Pat Macken
Members of the Italian national soccer team drive through the streets of Rome on an open bus celebrating with fans after winning the European Championship. Pope Francis met with the team in February and told them, “The most beautiful victories are those you win as a team.” (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

During the recently concluded Euro 2020 Championships (played in 2021 due to COVID-19), faith and prayer were often on display in various forms. Through near tragedy and joyous triumph, there was calling out to God.

In Denmark’s opening round-robin game against Finland, Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest, shocking players and spectators. Concern and fear were obvious in the minutes that followed the silence, but so was prayer. Former German superstar and manager Jurgen Klinsmann told ESPN, “The priority became just getting him back, so let’s pray … the whole football world started praying.” Players were seen with hands together in prayer.

Clearly, the game became insignificant in the scheme of things, which we need to be reminded of frequently. The prayers that were and are being said for Eriksen from every sport, media outlet, and walk of life were very unifying. In a world that often denies the transcendent, here we see the world of sports asking for God’s help.

Everyone in that moment comes to realize how our life is in the hands of God whether we are national heroes or people living ordinary daily lives. Eriksen was given CPR on the field for over 10 minutes and then was rushed to hospital, where he remained for a week. He is now recovering with his newly installed defibrillator.

Italy ultimately won the title in a shootout over England, becoming the Euro champions for the first time in 53 years. In a July 9 article for Crux, John L. Allen describes how as the Italian side progressed further during Euro: “Many Italians were seen praying to Madonnas, rubbing icons and lighting candles … as their followers stormed heaven with a distinctly Catholic form of prayer.”

This became especially evident during the nerve-racking penalty kick portion of Italy’s victories over Spain in the semifinals and England in the finals. While I don’t personally pray for wins (as much as for protection and sportsmanlike behaviour), it is a very good thing that each of us trusts God with all our petitions, as it brings us closer to the Almighty and reinforces our dependence on our Creator. 

When Pope Francis met with the Italian national soccer team in February, he told them, “The most beautiful victories are those you win as a team.”

The Azzurri did just that as their teamwork on the pitch was superb and their cohesiveness as a unit off the field was great. As Catholics this approach of prayer and unified teamwork is how we need to change the world.

Andy Drozdziak of Catholic Charismatic Renewal put together an interesting article with regard to Euro 2020. He listed his Euro 2020 fantasy team of Christian footballers. It is great to know that there was lots of competition, including most of the Azzurri. Here is information on some of the names he included:

  • Coach: Fernando Santos, Portugal. He dedicated winning the 2016 Euro to Jesus and Mary, saying, “Lastly, I want to speak to my best friend Jesus and his mother, to thank him for having chosen me … for having guided me and he lighted up my way.”
  • Coach: Roberto Mancini, Italy. He is a man known for his “deep and simple faith.” He visited Medjugorje a month after having visions of meeting one of the seers, Vicka. She spoke to him and said to Mancini, “It is Our Lady who does everything. We open our hearts, and she tells us what to do.”
  • Goalie: Manuel Neuer, Germany. His Catholic faith inspired him to start a foundation helping underprivileged children. He said it was “very special” meeting Pope Francis.
  • Defence: David Alaba, Austria. His motto “My strength lies in Jesus” is on his boots.
  • Defence: Dejan Lovren, Croatia. He has a tattoo on his arm depicting a nail being driven into a hand with the name of Jesus.
  • Midfield: Mateo Kovacic, Croatia. He recently said, “I’m Catholic, I am not afraid to say so.” When he received his silver medal from the 2018 World Cup he wore a banner of St. Anthony.
  • Midfield: Antoine Griezmann, France. He has tattoos of Jesus and rosary beads. He is known for displays of faith.
  • Striker: Robert Lewandowski, Poland. He once said, “I am a Catholic; I am not ashamed of Jesus or my faith. I know that God is watching over me all the time.”
  • Striker: Romelu Kokaku, Belgium. He prays many times a day and has been known to fall on his knees praying during or after games. He has been on a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
  • Striker: Olivier Giroud, France. He wears a shirt under his jersey that reads, “Choose Jesus, eternal life.” He is also a spokesman for the Alpha Course.

Euro 2020 was quite an athletic spectacle living up to its hype, but as Catholics let us celebrate the demonstrations of prayer and faith that we witnessed.

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