Saturday, 10 June 2006

On Football and Catholic Paraguay

All of England, it seems, stopped this afternoon for the much-hyped World Cup match against Paraguay (even though it was just a first round game). The Willesden presbytery was able to pause to watch the match, helped by the absence of phone calls and visitors at the door.

It was a typical England performance - a lucky start (the first ten minutes saw an own goal for Paraguay and the substitution of their injured No 1 goalkeeper), some moments of world-class play and a very uneasy, nerve-racking second half. But we just made it to gain the all-important three points.

Still, I've always had a soft spot for Paraguay. For one thing, it's always a promising sign when a country's capital city has a good Catholic name like 'AsunciĆ³n.' For another, one of the great moments in the nation's history came with the creation of the Jesuit 'reductions' in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These were almost independent states under the control of the Society of Jesus. Their creation led to a small crop of martyrs, canonised by John Paul II in 1988 - SS Alphonsus Rodriguez, Juan de Castilo and Rocco Gonzalez (1628). The regimes were pretty advanced for the times: there were free public services (such as schooling and medical care), the death penalty was abolished, the indigenous peoples were catechised using their local languages, and the Jesuits protected them from the slave trade. Literacy levels were almost 100%.

When the reductions worked, they seemed like an almost utopian society based on the Gospel. Even Rousseau (not known for his pro-Catholic views) admitted that they were 'one of the most altruistic ventures in human history.' However, not surprisingly, the colonial powers of Spain and Portugal were opposed to the 'reductions' and the Jesuits were eventually expelled in 1767.

Predictably, even the world of Catholic news today is full of football stories. The Rector of Glasgow's Scotus seminary has suggested that Scottish fans who don't support England during the competition may be sinning (England is the only United Kingdom side to qualify for the championship). 'If a Scot has an automatic negative reaction to supporting England,' says Fr McFadden, 'then they would have to question where that feeling is coming from.'


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