24/05/2012 09:39

PNG new deacon in Rome recalls exhilarating soccer tournament

By Christian Sieland – Diocese of Kundiawa. In 2007 a football league involving 16 teams from various pontifical universities and colleges in Rome was inaugurated to “reinvigorate the tradition of sport in the Christian community” and to spread the Gospel message of love through sports. Another motive was to tell the world that another type of sport was possible, a sport without hooliganism and racism, but with a friendly and yet tough competition among more than 300 players from all parts of the world. The ‘Centro Sportivo Italiano’, a Catholic Sports association, organizes the league. Only priests and seminarians are allowed to participate at the tournament. Players come from all over the world, from more than 60 countries. PNG has been represented by only two players since the competition started in 2007. This year I was the only one from PNG to participate, because my fellow companion Deacon Philemon Korake from Lae Diocese decided not to play anymore.

My team is formed by students from the Pontifical Urban College. Our team has always been one of the most exotic and colorful teams, with most players coming from the black continent and single players from Mexico, Pakistan or Myanmar and of course the two of us from PNG. Philemon Korake was called “la roccia” (the rock) and was our strong man in the defense, while I was called “il motorino”, the small motor of the team. Though our team has always had talented players, we have never been able to reach the finals. Only once we entered the semi-final but were then beaten by the later champions. All the other times we bowed out at the quarterfinals.

This year was not different. We had a strong team and performed well at the first stage of the tournament, having scored the highest number of goals out of the 16 teams. We qualified for the quarterfinals and had to play against the North American College, our neighbors from the Gianicolo Hill overlooking the Vatican. It was a tough and intense derby.  Ten minutes before the end of the game the score line was tight 2:2. The Americans lead with 2:1 when I scored an incredible goal from about 35-40 meters, giving our team new hope. But a mistake from our goalkeeper destroyed all our dreams and hopes. The Americans scored two more goals in the dying minutes to win 4:2 and advance to the semifinals. They made it all the way through to the grand final to eventually win the cup on May 12. For me personally it was a very disappointing moment, because I played one of my best games and was really convinced that we would have made it to the finals. But there can only be one winner so we accepted our defeat.

The news of consolation for our team reached us almost a week later: Our striker from Ghana was voted best striker for having scored most goals (9) of the tournament and I was voted best player of the tournament. To me it was really a big surprise; something that I have never expected or would have dreamed of. Out of over 300 players from all over the world, they chose me, the only player from PNG as the best player. I don’t know with what criteria they may have made their decision, but I guess they must have had their reasons to vote for me so it is a small recognition and achievement, which I am proud of. Our team has grabbed two of the four honors that are usually awarded to the most outstanding players and that is also a small consolation for the whole team. My trophy is neither a cup nor a medal, but a green stole. It reminds me that sports will always be an important part of my life, and that I can use it later as an instrument to lead especially the young people to Christ. It is a reminder that we have to testify Christ on the field as well as off the field because we are in a way “athletes of Christ”.

I could not reach the soccer final on 12 May 2012, nevertheless that same day was an important one on my way towards priesthood. On that special day I was ordained a deacon along with 16 other young men at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. Relatives and friends came from Germany and Austria. My parents tried everything possible to come for my diaconate ordination but unfortunately, they were unable to get their papers on time. Only a sister came all the way from PNG. The ordination in St. Peter’s Basilica has been a very emotional moment. It is hard to describe all the thoughts that rush through your mind at a moment like that. After 10 years as a seminarian, in Germany, in PNG and in Rome I was finally ordained a deacon.

I thank God for the many blessings he has bestowed on me so far. Much has been given to me, and much is expected from me. I ask all to pray for me and all those who prepare themselves for priesthood that they may persevere in their call and become good, worthy and holy servants of the Lord. (CBC Communications 240512 – giorgiolicini@yahoo.com