Last week found me stumbling around trying to write about religious issues in the World Cup. The event is one of the most significant worldwide. Certainly there were more religious issues than merely an immature head-butting, we thought. Here in America, we struggle to understand the significance of the World Cup. International rivalries go deep, and there is less of the East vs. West theme that we are so used to seeing at the Olympics.
GetReligion reader Discernment sent us a bevy of stories dealing with religion at the World Cup.
I'll start with this New York Times article from June 24. It's nothing special but I am impressed that the Times ran it:
The message at yesterday's lively service at the Full Gospel New York Church in Flushing, Queens, was essentially, Know Christ through soccer -- specifically, World Cup soccer.
''We support Christ and we love soccer,'' said the Rev. Ben Hur, an assistant pastor.
About 700 fervent fans in red T-shirts streamed into the church yesterday to watch South Korea take on Switzerland on two large screens in a cavernous worship space. Mr. Hur, 46, led them in a pre-kickoff prayer in Korean. Then, traditional Korean drummers stoked the cheers, and Promise to Praise, a female dance troupe, gyrated to songs praising both Jesus in heaven and South Korea on the field.
Actually, yesterday's service was more like a full evangelical production with soccer as its basis.
Mr. Hur and the other pastors at the church are big soccer fans, and in their quest for new missionary methods, they have organized the viewings of games in this year's tournament in the hope of drawing new members to the church, and to Christ. Some of the games have drawn more than 1,000 fans, they said.
''All the world is watching the World Cup, and God will use this opportunity to grow his kingdom,'' Mr. Hur said in English. ''I prayed that God will use this opportunity to accelerate the evangelism around the world.''
If the line between religion and sports is blurred in the parts of America where the Church of Football holds dominion, the same was true yesterday at the Church of Soccer in Queens.
This Religion News Service article deals with the church aspect within Germany and this article from The Vancouver Sun deals with the all too familiar issue -- for sports fans at least -- of whether it is right to pray to God for a given team's success. It's somewhat more serious than the Times piece, and digs into the issues:
The triviality of calling on divine intervention for a win for your team instead of praying for world peace or an end to child hunger isn't lost on religious fans.
"We don't pray for one team to win," said Father Firmo Mantovani of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church with mainly Portuguese-language masses, including one this morning at 11:30, a half-hour before Portugal is scheduled to play the Netherlands in a quarterfinal.
"If we ask God's assistance to pray for one team, it's not important. We have more important things to pray for," he said.
Mantovani follows a strict separation of church and sport.
"During the celebration [of Mass], we don't mention soccer at all because religion and soccer are separate," he said. "And we cannot mention [a specific team] because people are from different countries.
On the flip side, here is a most enjoyable Telegraph article dealing with the unique Christian/Muslim dynamic of the tiny African country that had amazing success at the tournament:
On Friday, the English-language Ghanaian Chronicle carried a fascinating report of the country's hysterical celebrations following the national team's 2-1 victory over the United States, describing how the triumph had broken down religious barriers and brought together the different faiths in a spontaneous "explosion".
The same is true of the 23 players on duty in Germany, four of whom are Muslims and the rest practising Christians. Ratomir Dujkovic, the team's Serbian-born coach, is convinced that his players' deeply held religious beliefs have become an important psychological weapon, fostering a unity within the ranks that makes motivational team talks redundant.
"This is something special," he said. "In this group of Ghana Black Stars we have Christians and Muslims and both groups pray together. One player leads the prayers and the rest follow him. If it's a Muslim who is leading the prayer, all the group will pray with him. If it's a Christian, they do the same."
So Muslims are praying with Christians and Christians are praying with Muslims, all over a soccer match? There is certainly something special about soccer if it has the ability to bring people of different religions, religions that often clash violently, together spiritually.
Tomorrow, I will write a post on Germany's legalization of prostitution and how that played in the media during the World Cup.
Much thanks to our friend Discernment for sending these articles to us. Feel free to leave us comments on your favorite World Cup story dealing with religion.
Photo by Seeding-Chaos on Flickr.