Cleats? Check. Fast-paced game play? Check. Passionate fans? Check. Energetic announcers? Check. Orange slices? Probably.
The diocesan Soccer Cup, held June 15 on the fields at Saint Augustine Prep in Richland, was the first of its kind in South Jersey, as young adults, their friends, and family engaged in some spirited, but neighborly, competition.
Eight all-boys teams and three all-girls teams, representing various Catholic parishes, took the field for bragging rights on the sunny, breezy day.
“It was a great day of engagement for young adults,” said Greg Coogan, director of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministry for the Diocese of Camden.
The happy and and healthy day was born out of the National V Encuentro process, which has aimed to strengthen the Hispanic Catholic Community in the United States. As one of the initiative’s pastoral priorities is increased outreach to young adults, it made perfect sense to organize an event for them around soccer, the most popular sport in the world among Latinos, said Andres Arango, Bishop’s Delegate for Hispanic Ministry and Director of Evangelization.
The goal is evangelization
As young adults already in the pews invited their friends to come out and play, “it was an opportunity for participants to engage with their peers and build community in parishes, through a shared, fun experience,” he said.
The eight men’s teams were Los Misionaries, Divine Mercy Parish, Vineland; Wildwoods, Notre Dame de la Mer Parish, Wildwood; Angels, Saint Clare of Assisi Parish, Swedesboro; Los Marianos, Saint Mary of Mount Carmel, Hammonton; AC Saint Monica, Parish of Saint Monica, Atlantic City; Saints, Holy Cross Parish, Bridgeton; Catholic Millennial Ministry, Divine Mercy, Vineland; San Judas, Our Lady of Hope, Blackwood.
The three teams of women were Wildwoods, AC Saint Monica, and Las Misioneras, from Vineland and completed with players from other diocesan church communities.
All competed in the tournament-style play, with non-stop action taking place on two fields simultaneously throughout the day.
One of the women emceeing the day, and calling the action on the field, was Marianela Nunez, field consultant for Latino Enrollment in the Office of Catholic Schools.
“The soccer cup was proof that the Catholic Church can pray together and have fun. It was a lively event,” she said.
She and Claudia Trani-Melgar, coordinator of Hispanic Ministry at Saint Clare of Assisi Parish, provided lively commentary and more than a few “goaaaaalllllllllls,” in the mold of classic Spanish soccer announcers.
Professional referees kept the game orderly, and coaches guided their teams on the sidelines.
“We prayed and played together,” said Chris Morales, coach of the boys’ team from the Parish of Saint Monica.
For his 20 players, preparation for the tournament began weeks before June 15, he said.
“For about a month, we trained every Monday and Wednesday at the Chelsea Heights field,” Morales said.
AC Saint Monica lost their first game against San Judas, but defeated the Saints in their second match.
He appreciated the “coordination and support for this event” among his fellow parishioners, and the parish pastor, Father Jon Thomas, who, with fellow priests and Bishop Dennis Sullivan, took in the action from the stands. No word on if any had vuvuzelas.
Arango, Coogan and the others on the planning committee for this event are hopeful that the event will continue next year, and possibly include more teams, after the enthusiastic reaction to the day. They also hope the camaraderie fostered on the field leads to fellowship elsewhere, be it in the pews, a diner, or back on the soccer grounds.
“Through soccer, evangelization,” Coogan said.