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Feature News | Tuesday, February 13, 2024

On the pitch, no redemption for priests

Seminarians win again as Archbishop's Cup soccer game draws rowdy crowd of nearly 1,500

English Spanish

MIAMI GARDENS| Leah Sarai Alisma, 11, and her 6-year-old cousin, Emma Mendoza, really like soccer. The two, along with Leah’s mom, Saray Matute, cheered along with a crowd of about 1,500 who came out to see the second annual Archbishop’s Cup, played by Archdiocese of Miami priests and seminarians at St. Thomas University’s athletic field.

“We’re here for Father Cletus [Omode]. He’s a fast runner,” said Leah, who attends St. Lawrence Church and School in North Miami Beach, where Father Omode is pastor.

The girls screamed excitedly as he received the ball and made an offensive move across the field. Then a seminarian on defense snared the ball.

“We also want the seminarians to win,” said Matute, who encouraged the girls to cheer for both sides.

Admission to the game once again was free, with requests for donations benefiting the Seminary Burse Fund. The Jan. 26, 2024, scrimmage also served to kick off Catholic Schools Week, which ran from Jan. 28-Feb. 3.

Seminarian Abelardo Garcia (23) wishes his brother in Dallas a happy birthday after scoring a goal during the second annual Archbishop's Cup soccer game, played Jan. 26, 2024, on the field of St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens. The seminarians beat the priests 3-0.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Seminarian Abelardo Garcia (23) wishes his brother in Dallas a happy birthday after scoring a goal during the second annual Archbishop's Cup soccer game, played Jan. 26, 2024, on the field of St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens. The seminarians beat the priests 3-0.

For those who could not watch in person, Radio Paz 830AM/96.1 FM transmitted the game via its airwaves and via livestream on Facebook and YouTube, complete with multi-angled shots and play-by-play color commentary by Gustavo Mendez and Tony Santos. (See video below)

“Last year I remember the exhausted priests, and the screams of Tony every time a seminarian would score a goal,” Mendez recalled. “Then, regretfully, he would say ‘No, no, we have to support the priests’.”

After last year’s game ended 3-0 in favor of the seminarians, the priests were hoping for redemption.

Doing a sideline Instagram interview with Angelica Duarte of Radio Paz, Father Matthew Gomez, archdiocesan director of vocations, whose office organizes the event, commented that morale on both teams was high, and it was anybody’s game.

“The only way that we know who is going to win is when the ref blows the last whistle and says, ‘Game over’,” Father Gomez said.

 

HOUSE DIVIDED

The game had a house-divided kind of feeling as many found themselves torn over which team to cheer for. Even Pauline Sister Irene Regina could not decide.

The sign says it all during the second annual Archbishop's Cup soccer game, played Jan. 26, 2024, on the field of St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens.The seminarians beat the priests 3-0.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

The sign says it all during the second annual Archbishop's Cup soccer game, played Jan. 26, 2024, on the field of St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens.The seminarians beat the priests 3-0.

Fans show their support for seminarians from St. Katharine Drexel in Weston and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Doral during the second annual Archbishop's Cup soccer game, played Jan. 26, 2024, on the field of St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens.The seminarians beat the priests 3-0.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Fans show their support for seminarians from St. Katharine Drexel in Weston and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Doral during the second annual Archbishop's Cup soccer game, played Jan. 26, 2024, on the field of St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens.The seminarians beat the priests 3-0.

“My heart is with the young guys, but because I’m a little older, I guess I gotta root for the priests. Actually, they’re the ones that bring us the Sacrament, so, you know,” she said as she laughed and shrugged.

The seminarians brought out a lot of fans. Their cheer section included drummers, noise makers, and even a trumpet player. Wearing a yellow T-shirt, yellow afro wig and a yellow cape to match the color of his side, seminarian Erich Vazquez took on full mascot responsibility.

Ooo-lé, o-lé, o-lé, o-lé,” he belted out, as he encouraged others to sing along to the iconic soccer stadium anthem.

Vazquez and his team of seminarian supporters sang fight songs in English and Spanish, ranging from religious, such as “Resucitó” (“He is Risen”) and “Demos gracias al Señor” (“Let’s give thanks to the Lord”), to the Cuban “Guantanamera” and Christmas favorite “Mi Burrito Sabanero.”

Some of the priests’ fans stood along the chain-link fence on the edge of the field so their priests could see their support signs and hear them cheer. That’s where Cathy Palma, from St. Martha in Miami Shores, watched the game with her family and friends, cheering for their pastor, Father Juan Carlos Salazar.

“Our community is very much into soccer, so we’re big fans, and we want to support him. We’re his family out here. He’s the best priest, and the best player,” said Palma of her pastor, who wore number 13 and wore the captain’s armband.

The Palma family made their own shirts for the game, styled in blue to support the priests, with a soccer ball stamped on the upper left front and “Salazar” written on the back. Yells of panic and excitement erupted from the group as Father Salazar approached with the ball.

“Go padrecito! Go JC,” they yelled.

When a seminarian dispossessed him of the ball, Father Cesar Betancourt, standing nearby, yelled in Spanish, “Arrepiéntete! Arrepiéntete!” (Repent! Repent!)

Father Betancourt, parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes, later, joked that if the priests lost, no Masses would be celebrated the next day.

With sports, he said, “You have to play loving your enemy. Here, it doesn’t matter who wins. And whoever loses, let him train.”

 

LESSONS OF SPORT

Archbishop Thomas Wenski reminded those in attendance that “through sport we learn to collaborate, to cooperate with one another, we learn great values and we grow in virtue.”

About 12 minutes into the first half, seminarian Alejandro Molina, wearing number eight, scored the first goal via penalty kick. The second goal came with a little over three minutes left in the first half. After scoring, seminarian Abelardo Garcia, number 23, wowed the crowd with a celebratory backflip.

The 21-year-old from Dallas told the Florida Catholic he had been recruited to play soccer in Kansas but a change of heart led him to Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Hialeah instead. He entered the seminary seven months ago.

At half time, cheerleading squads from St. Bonaventure School in Davie, St. Mark the Evangelist School in Southwest Ranches, and St. Mary Cathedral School in Miami entertained the crowd. Meanwhile, the priests and seminarians rested and prepared for another 45-minute half.

Seminarian and team captain Gabriel Campos is hoisted by teammates after his team's 3-0 win over the priests at the second annual Archbishop's Cup soccer game, played Jan. 26, 2024, on the field of St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Seminarian and team captain Gabriel Campos is hoisted by teammates after his team's 3-0 win over the priests at the second annual Archbishop's Cup soccer game, played Jan. 26, 2024, on the field of St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens.

But in the end, it was not enough for the priests. Seminarian Garcia scored another goal around 12 minutes into the second half, earning him the MVP title. And though the priests continued to fight, they did not score.

The final whistle blew, ending the match 3-0. Priests and seminarians hugged, high-fived, and shook hands.

“Congratulations seminarians on another victory, and congratulations priests because you’re still standing,” said Archbishop Wenski.

He presented prizes to the teams: muscle rub cream for the priests and baby sipping cups for the seminarians. He then handed the trophy to the seminarians who raised it in joy, and the crowd spilled onto the field to join in celebration.

“We tried our best,” Father Reynold Brevil, parochial vicar of St. Mary Cathedral, told the Florida Catholic. “The seminarians, they only pray and play. Us, we do Mass, we do confession. It’s a fulltime job.”

But Father Brevil added that he will be ready for next year’s game. His training method: playing soccer with the students at St. Mary Cathedral School.

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