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Vatican cricket captain Fr Bijoy Joseph heads back to the pavilion

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Fr Bijoy shaking hands with Pope Francis. Photo: Supplied

From a double-century in his Revesby backyard at age five, to captaining the pope’s cricket team at the Vatican, Fr Bijoy Joseph has enjoyed a career every sports-lover would be proud of.

However, the end of his studies in Rome means calling stumps on his time in the Holy See’s white and yellow kit.

The handy batsmen played his last match for the St Peter’s Cricket Club last week and is now preparing to return home to Sydney and begin his parish ministry.

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After being ordained at St Mary’s Cathedral a year ago, he said he is very much looking forward to being in a parish and with the people of God in different moments of their lives.

While he admits swapping one hallowed ground for another is difficult, he said he is a priest first and foremost which must always take priority.

Speaking to The Catholic Weekly after a tour of Spain, he said that Pope Francis was a strong supporter of the team, and regards sports as a metaphor for life, where training, discipline and motivation are opportunities to build character and encourage inter-faith dialogue.

But coming from Argentina, the Holy Father confesses that his knowledge of the game is very limited, Fr Bijoy said, laughing.

“Our team mission is to build bridges with other faiths and cultures and to present a different side to the Catholic priesthood,” he said.

“Our team manager, Fr Eamonn O’Higgins LC, always reminds us that we are priests first and cricketers second.

“I believe we serve a role of first evangelisation, where the sport enables people who may not go to church or who would never meet a priest, to have a different encounter of the church than what may be presented through the media.

“After a game, one can then speak to the opposition team in a relaxed manner over a beer, and they are often curious about what a priest is, what he does, and his relationship with cricket.

“The sport is merely the medium, the goal is an encounter with Christ and his church.”
Picking up a cricket bat before he’d even started school, Fr Bijoy played U7’s for the Padstow Hornets before spending Sydney summers representing Revesby Workers and then Penshurst West.

After taking a break from sport while he etched out a career as an engineer, he resumed the sport once his studies for the priesthood took him to Rome.
He made the Vatican’s XI in 2019, was promoted to vice captain from 2021-2022 and then captain.

“I was told about the team by two people back in Sydney before I was sent to Rome: Fr James McCarthy, whose father first helped form the team, and Cardinal George Pell, who was the president of the team until his death,” he said.

“I turned up to training and made it immediately into the squad.

“Most of the team is from India who have grown up playing street cricket with a soft ball, so I had an advantage over most, having grown up with a hard one.

“I was very fortunate to make the team as I was never good enough to play for Australia. The closest I got was playing against Steve Smith in school cricket!”
After almost 20 years playing the sport, Fr Bijoy said it will be the camaraderie he misses most.

“Playing on a team composed only of priests or people training to be one, means there is a unity in knowing what we are about and who we represent,” he said.

“On tour, for example, we started each day with morning prayer, guided meditation led by one of the priests, and then Mass; and in the evening we would pray the rosary together.

“We also engaged in pastoral work on tour.

With fellow priests and seminarians of the North American College

“In Kenya we visited a slum and played cricket with the kids as well as parish and hospital visits, while in Spain we ran a sports clinic with handicapped children.

“It is in these moments that you see each priest come alive. While playing sport they may be a bit uncertain, in pastoral work I have seen these priests come alive with the Holy Spirit.”

And unlike Australian batsman, Matthew Hayden who would famously make the sign of the cross with his feet when he hit the crease, Fr Bijoy said he didn’t have any unusual pre-game habits.

“Cricketers are notoriously superstitious, but I’ve become less so as I’ve grown older and into my faith,” he smiled.

“For me, I try my best and if I got out cheaply, I would always look at it like it’s all for the glory of God.”

Established in 2014, the Vatican Cricket Team was formed to encourage ties between the Catholic Church and countries and regions where the sport is popular including India and the Caribbean.

Initially the idea of Australia’s then-ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy KC, the team has since grown and plays its home matches at the Roma Capannelle Cricket Ground, the only international cricket ground in Rome.

Unlike the rest of the Vatican’s civil sports body, the team selects its players exclusively from priests, deacons, and seminarians studying in Rome.

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