Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No shortage of devotion at the World Cup

People pray for goals while others pray for the soccer to finally end

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Costa Rica soccer fans pray while they attend a live telecast of the World Cup quarterfinal between Costa Rica and Netherlands, inside a park in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, July 5, 2014.

ESTEBAN FELIX THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Costa Rica soccer fans pray while they attend a live telecast of the World Cup quarterfinal between Costa Rica and Netherlands, inside a park in San Jose, Costa Rica, Saturday, July 5, 2014.

Millions of Canadians -- and hundreds of millions more around the world -- will be glued to their TV sets, watching the World Cup final Sunday.

Some will cheer for their favourite team, others will cheer for a good game. And if previous matches are anything to go by, more than a few will be praying, too.

It's been fascinating to watch the expressions of religious devotion during the tournament, both by players and fans. During the match between Mexico and The Netherlands, players on the Mexican side could be seen during the penalty kicks with their eyes closed and their hands folded in prayer.

During the match between Algeria and Germany, you could see Algerian fans in the stands, their hands upturned in the Muslim form of supplication, also in prayer.

In other games, it was not uncommon to see players crossing themselves before play began, or raising their eyes and arms to sky after scoring a goal.

Watching the World Cup, I had to think that North American football -- the game where many players thank Jesus after scoring a touchdown, or drop to a knee and point at the sky -- has nothing on soccer when it comes to prayerful expression.

But while many fans prayed their own individual prayers for their teams, England's team actually had its own official church-sanctioned prayers for the World Cup.

The two prayers were written by the Bishop of Leeds, the Right Rev. Nick Baines, and released by the Church of England prior to the tournament.

The first prayer expressed the hope and longing of a nation that badly wanted to see its team finally do well at a World Cup.

"God, who played the cosmos into being, please help England rediscover their legs, their eyes and their hunger: that they might run more clearly, pass more nearly and enjoy the game more dearly."

The second prayer reflected what the British saw as their likely fate -- a continuation of their long-standing disappointment on the international soccer stage. It was just two words: "Oh, God..."

The bishop also wrote a prayer for those who have no interest in soccer, but had to put up with soccer-crazed fans for a month.

Titled "A prayer for those who are simply not interested," it went like this: "Lord, as all around are gripped with World Cup fever, bless us with understanding, strengthen us with patience and grant us the gift of sympathy if needed."

On a more serious note, the bishop also wrote a prayer for tournament and the host nation, Brazil.

"God of the nations, who has always called his people to be a blessing for the world, bless all who take part in the World Cup. Smile on Brazil in her hosting, on the nations represented in competition, and on those who travel to join in the party."

Of his prayers, the bishop said it was all in good sport.

"God is not partisan, and there are bigger things to pray for around the world, not least in Iraq, Nigeria and Sudan to name but three... my hope is that the World Cup would be a reminder of the joy of a nation coming together in a common cause -- something that in itself is worth celebrating."

I don't know who you will be praying -- er, cheering for -- tomorrow, or whether you will be praying that the whole thing will just hurry up and be over. And if your team should lose, you can recall the words of Jonathan Sacks, formerly the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.

Sacks, an Arsenal fan, writes on his blog that losses also have a religious dimension. They teach that "the game is bigger than the team. That is a very deep truth indeed."

That is a deep hard truth that this England fan learned early in the tournament. Pray with me: "Oh, God ..."

jdl562000@yahoo.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2014 D15

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