Tuesday, December 19, 2006

World Champions! (With a spiritual twist)

Internacional, the professional soccer team that we cheer for here in Porto Alegre (POA), won the FIFA World Championship in Japan on Sunday!

They are only the fourth team in Brazil to ever win, and this makes POA the only city on the planet to have two different professional teams that have win the world championship (Gremio won it in the 80's). It is difficult to describe how big this is - it is far bigger than any sporting event in the United States, because it is truly a world championship, representing thousands of professional teams from all over the world. Inter was playing the mighty Barcelona, an team with a huge payroll full of world-famous superstars. Inter has no superstars and was given basically zero chance to win. But, they played well as a team, pulled together, and accomplished what was widely considered impossible.
The passion and energy that is being expressed is truly astounding. Tens of thousands of people gathered in public parks to watch the game on giant screens. When Inter finally scored with just eight minutes left to break a scoreless tie, the roar that rose up from the city was absolutely amazing. After the win, hundreds of thousands spilled out into the streets to dance, cry and celebrate.
The team arrived from Japan this afternoon. They had to land at an air force base in a neighboring city because the police were unable to secure the POA airport from the crowds. It took literally hours for the fire trucks on which they rode to travel the few short km into town to start their parade, because so many fans swarmed the interstate highway to meet them. It has been both impressive and somewhat saddening to see the worship and adulation that millions of Gauchos give to their soccer teams. If only they would give the same worship to Jesus!

Also, it has been both typical and saddening to see the mixture of witchcraft and syncretistic catholicism on the team. In one of the newscasts after the game, the astrologer who picked the jersey number for the player who scored the winning goal was interviewed and given considerable press. A frequent image at Inter home games is that of a statue of St. Anthony sitting behind their goal to bless them as they play. After the team won the title of South American champions, which sent them to the World Championship, one of the assistant coaches crawled across the field on his knees with an statue of Mary in his hands to fulfill his vow. The head coach later walked 20-some miles to a sanctuary of Mary in another city to pay off the vow that he had made.

However, there are bright spots! A number of players pulled off their jerseys immediately after the game to reveal shirts that said "Jesus loves you" or "Jesus changed my life" or "Only Jesus saves" in various languages and were photographed by the 1500 registered photographers. Reporters commented after the South American Championship that pagode, a musical style usually associated with wild partying was "already playing in the locker room." What they didn't mention is that it was Christian pagode being played to glorify Christ.

So...what to do? How about we pray for the Christian players on the team to have an increasing influence on their fellow players and coaches, so that when they win the World Championship again next year, all the members of the team will wear Jesus shirts for the photographers, to God's glory!

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