The World Cup is edging towards its second stage and I know a lot of people here who are walking around like zombies thanks to late night matches. Last night I was up myself until well after 1am watching the USA Portugal game which ended in a draw, sadly for the US. With Wimbledon starting today I had better bury the TV in the garden, it's all too much of a temptation.
That said, sport has its place in the lives of Christians and we have had Saints who were mad on sport. Today I thought I'd mention that football (soccer for those in the US), has its own patron Saint - the Oratorian St Luigi Scrosoppi.
St Luigi was born in 1804 in Udine in the north of Italy. A devout child he entered the seminary at age of twelve and was ordained in 1827 - his two brothers were also ordained in the same ceremony. His first years of priesthood were spent trying to assist the poor in his local region. Wars and famine had reduced many people to destitution and many orphaned children were abandoned and left to wander starving and unprotected. He sought to help these children, particularly the girls who were most vulnerable, and he organised some local women to form a group to help and educate them. Nine of these women sought to dedicate their lives in a more radical way to this apostolate, and so in 1837 Luigi formed them into a community and so the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence was born.
Luigi himself was reflecting on his own vocation, and he discerned a call within the call. He was attracted by the life and example of St Philip Neri, and over time he understood that God was calling him to become an Oratorian. At the age of 42 in 1846. Living the life of an Oratorian he continued his life of service to the poor and directed and guided his foundation. He told the sisters that he would found twelve houses of the Sisters before he died, and he did.
However the Unification of Italy would lead to many trials and difficulties for Luigi and his congregations. The anti-clericalism which accompanied this process led to a decree from the civil authorities suppressing the Oratorian Congregation and other religious organisations. The Fathers were forced out of their community and their works of charity abolished and dismantled. This did not stop the priests from continuing their ministry, and among them Luigi was determined to assist his poor and protect his sisters while observing the full life of an Oratorian priest despite being forced into "exile" from community.
The abolition of the religious institutes led to greater poverty as the poor "liberated" from the Church found little or no assistance from the secular authorities, as is often the case in anti-religious revolutions. Luigi had not only to defend his Sisters and their works but also deal with growing numbers of poor people. This struggle would occupy him for the rest of his life, but it was a mission which was accompanied by growing ill health but also growing sanctity. By the end of 1883 he was unable to continue his work. Knowing death was near he prophesied to his Sisters that troubles were coming for them, but they had to stay faithful - to be charitable and they would overcome them. St Luigi died on the 3rd April 1884 worn out from his labours.
St Luigi was declared Patron Saint of Footballers in 2001. One incident in his life seems to have promoted him to this patronage. It is said to keep orphans from getting into trouble he encouraged them to play ball. However the neighbours were not pleased with the noise and shouting of the boys at play and so came to complain to the Saint. Dismissing their complaints St Luigi said it would be worse if the boys were out getting into trouble, and then abandoning the complaining neighbours he ran out into the yard and joined the boys in the game of football.
St Luigi is also a patron for those who suffer from AIDS. The miracle for his canonisation was the miraculous healing of a young man with the condition.