Dear Friends, THE World Cup permeated our sacristy and even our sanctuary. Normally well-disciplined altar boys raised competing voices in favour of England, Scotland or Ireland; one or two dared to root for Germany or Italy, but these were pinched and punched into silence or submission by the rest.
Even the eight-year old children of the first communion class painted footballs and union jacks on the plain wooden crosses presented to them as part of their sacramental preparation. They were supposed to paint the good and beautiful things in their lives on one side of the cross and the bad or difficult things on the other.
One small boy managed to show Christ crucified on the Sussex Downs with the English Channel and a football at his feet. On the other side he had painted a polluted beach and a squatting beggar with outstretched hand.
During the notices following the mass of the first Sunday after kick-off 1 declared my support for tiny Costa Rica. My chief reason was an admiration for that country's courage in abolishing its armed forces in 1948. A solitary burst of handclapping from the back row indicated that Costa Rica had one more supporter.
I didn't go quite as far as to say aloud that we could resolve the "vocations crisis" if all the military chaplains in the world were to hand in their khaki uniforms, but I wilfully entertained that thought.
My favourite team was eliminated, unfortunately, so I switched my attention to another outsider — Cameroon.
By this time it was obvious that the children of Shorehamby-Sea were opening their eyes to a wider world. Dust was blown off family atlases as conscientious parents used the World Cup as a lesson in geography.
The good thing about football is that the poor countries of the world stand a sporting chance of winning. The street kids of Sao Paulo, Lima and Lagos need no more equipment than a ball to kick around; bricks or stones can serve as goal posts.
The Olympic Games, Wimbledon and so many other world sporting events are closed to countries without a healthy bank balance. Football is a leveller that is as capable of raising up the lowly as it is of pulling down the mighty (perhaps this is why it is isn't played in Britain's public schools). Maybe the small boy who painted Christ on the Sussex Downs with a football nearby was not so very far out. After the recent crowing that the cold war has been "won" by capitalism, after all the hypocritical condemnation of Nelson Mandela by those who never lifted a finger to help him or his cause, after the US invasion of Panama and the earthquake in Iran, after the publication in Rome of the most boring and irrelevant catechism since such things were invented — after all this God must have been beside herself with uncomplicated joy (and with a glass of whisky on the table) as a leather ball was kicked around in Italy by black and white, rich and poor, christian and moslem. Nessun dormal Affectionately