Vatican's No. 2 aspires to compete with Italy's soccer elite

Soccer is practically a religion for many in Italy. So it's no surprise the Vatican is getting into the game.

The Holy See is fielding a team in the Clericus Cup a soccer tournament among seminarians which kicks off in Rome in February.

The Vatican even has a vision of forming a team capable of playing in the Serie A, according to its new No. 2 official, Secretary of State and soccer enthusiast Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

"The Vatican could set up a soccer team of the caliber of (AS) Roma, Inter (Milan), Genoa or Sampdoria," Bertone said Sunday.

Genoa and Sampdoria are the top pro teams in Genoa, where he served as archbishop before moving to the secretary of state's office in September.

"If, for example, we were to take all the Brazilian students at our pontifical universities, we could make a magnificent team," he said in Monday's La Repubblica newspaper.

Bertone's office said he was not immediately available for elaboration on his remarks.

Bertone, 72, has occasionally offered radio play-by-play of his favorite team Juventus. He also used to provide commentary for Genoa's professional teams on local TV.

The cardinal has been credited with the idea of the Clericus Cup. Sixteen teams will compete to "reinvigorate the tradition (of sport) inside the Christian community," according to organizers.

The Vatican said Bertone planned to attend a three-way soccer tournament in Rome on Monday evening between lay employees of St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums and Swiss Guards.

The late Pope John Paul II who was a goalkeeper in his youth in Poland _ set up a Vatican sports department in 2004 to foster "a vision of sports activity as a means of integral personal growth and as an instrument in the service of peace and brotherhood among peoples."

In 2000, John Paul presided over an all-star soccer game at Stadio Olimpico, which included Italian great Roberto Baggio, reports AP.

If Bertone is an armchair enthusiast, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, 74, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, is the real deal. He is said to have been a promising soccer player in his youth in Portugal.

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