The disgusting proliferation of World Cup memes involving the Popes since the establishment of an Argentinian-German final match points to a tragically severe flight from reality in the West, even among organizations and media outlets whose Catholicity goes oft unquestioned. Catholic Memes, UCatholic, Vatican Insider, and others have fallen into the trap of imposing the whims of secular culture onto the life of the Church, as if the men who inherited the universal Petrine ministry established by Christ himself have no other pressing ecclesial concerns. With refreshing clarity, Rorate Caeli underscores the real absurdity of such imaginative Argentina/Bergoglio-v-Germany/Ratzinger narratives, especially in the light of the continual martyrdom suffered by many of our Catholic brothers and sisters.
Both Francis and Benedict have spoken far more words about the tragic situation of the Church in Syria and Iraq than about the World Cup and soccer in general. On the verge of the 2006 semifinal between Italy and Germany, Papa Ratzinger simply said, tanti auguri a tutti e che vinca il migliore (good luck to all and may the best win). Before a friendly match between Italy and Argentina played in his honor, Papa Bergoglio remarked, non so per chi tifare (I don’t know for whom to cheer). Prior to this World Cup, he publicly refused to support Argentina, a statement supported both by the Prefect of the Pontifical Household Archbishop Gaenswein and Holy See spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ. In Lombardi’s words, sono al di sopra del tifo— both Pontiffs are above supporting one team over another. On the other hand, how many Angelus, Regina Caeli, and Urbi et Orbi messages have we heard from both Popes which deplore the situation of Christians in the Middle East? Despite the frequent, impassioned attempts by the Popes to shed light on the plight of the martyred Churches, certain fertile minds ignore their real words while reducing the pontiffs into mere props of a sporting rivalry.
As Muslim terrorists continue to massacre thousands of Christians throughout Iraq and Syria, one only need to turn on the news to see that indeed, as Pope Francis often reminds us, there are more martyrs in our time than in the critical first generations of the Church. In the last few days, ISIS has vandalized the tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul (ancient Nineveh), and Louis Sakho, Catholic Patriarch of the Chaldeans, fears that the Church in Iraq may be destroyed. In a scathing message, he condemns the indifference of many Catholics in the West who are more up to date on the tears of Brazilian fans than on the spilled blood of the Chaldean Catholic Church. Philippe Cardinal Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon and Primate of France, echoed with bitter eloquence this sentiment when he referred to our martyred brethren in Syria and Iraq as hommes que l’on tue, dans le silence, entre deux ola d’un stade de foot brésilien (men who are being murdered, in silence, between two waves in a Brazilian soccer stadium).
I love soccer. There is no other sport which inspires as much passion, emotion, and breathtaking moments for so many people across the world. I myself have been caught up in the trials and triumphs of my squadre del cuore (to use the Italian expression), be they the United States national team or AC Milan (holder of a record 18 international trophies), and yet these concerns pale in comparison to the sufferings of the Church in our time. I am fond of another Italian phrase I first heard in Rome years ago, attributed to legendary AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi: Il calcio è la cosa più importante delle cose non importanti– soccer is most important thing of the unimportant things. Its relative importance should never be overstated.
In other words, let’s not be ridiculous.