Seminarians won inaugural Archbishop’s Cup, but nearly 1,500 enjoyed spirited evening of play
MIAMI GARDENS | The final score was 3-0. Youth beat experience. Speed beat guile. Miami’s seminarians defeated Miami’s priests to win the first Archbishop’s Cup.
But nearly 1,500 fans reveled in the excitement of watching a pretty good soccer game played by surprisingly talented amateurs who kept it close until midway through the second half.
The spirit in the stands, and along the chain-link fence where many stood to watch the game, was pure joy and totally fun.
Seminarians and their supporters were loud in their encouragement, sometimes stomping, sometimes singing hymns like “Alabaré” and “Immaculate Mary,” grinning and waving pom-poms and holding signs. When a priest fell down, lay there for a while, and then got up, they sang “Resucitó” (he is risen).
Those “rooting for the Fathers” included their parishioners and Pastoral Center employees – two of the players, co-captain Father Antonio Tupiza and Father Emmanuel Essiet, work in the Metropolitan Tribunal, and co-captain Father Juan Carlos Salazar is administrator of St. Martha Parish next door; along with anyone with a natural tendency to root for the underdogs, including the play-by-play announcers from Radio Paz 830 AM/96.1 FM, who called the game while transmitting it on Facebook and YouTube.
Parishioners from St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Pompano Beach rented two buses and wore matching yellow T-shirts to cheer for their parish administrator, Father Fenly Saint-Jean. Parishioners from St. Timothy in Miami carried posters with a picture of their favorite player, parochial vicar Father Angel Calderón.
Many of those present praised the “spirit” of the event.
Jean Souffrant, from Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission in Miami, described it as “uplifting” and said it should become an annual event. The church’s parochial vicar, Father Youry Jules, was among the players.
Notre Dame’s pastor, Father Reginald Jean-Mary, called it “a beautiful initiative, the priests and seminarians coming together.” He added that “so many people being present shows that the people love and support the Church.”
The seminarians’ cheering section impressed Sharon Utterback, president of the Miami Serra Club. “You can see the brotherhood they have formed.”
For Serra Club board member Victor Rocha, the best part was the crowd: “a bunch of devout Catholics having fun,” he said. “The Holy Spirit is with us.”
Msgr. Pablo Navarro, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, chuckled as he predicted the outcome. “The seminarians are going to win,” he said, even though his vice rector, Father Bryan Garcia, played for the priests.
Msgr. Navarro also joked that “the ride for the priests is that,” pointing at the Metro-Dade Fire Rescue vehicle standing by just in case – which thankfully was not needed.
On a more serious note, Msgr. Navarro said, “It’s a great spirit to bring the priests, seminarians, and parishioners together. It’s a great morale builder.”
Women religious were represented as well. The Sisters of St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo, who staff the Marian Center School next door to St. Thomas University, showed up in their white habits.
“We want to support the future priests, the future of the Church,” said Sister Filomena Mastrangelo while holding up her sign rooting for the seminarians.
The evening was organized by the Vocations Office but the idea came from Archbishop Thomas Wenski, prompted by the excitement over the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in December. His goal, he said, was to “let people see that priests are people too.”
Indeed, fans snapped selfies and children mingled with the players and seminarians before and after the game. The kids got to play on the St. Thomas University field at halftime and helped to retrieve errant balls during the game, so the players would not have to chase after them.
The Communications Office gave out 600 pom poms in blue and yellow – the colors worn by the priests and seminarians, respectively – along with 600 signs printed in English, Spanish and Creole for people to cheer on their favorites: “Go, priests, go” and “Go, seminarians, go.”
Because Catholic Schools Week ended a day later, Feb. 4, cheerleaders from St. David in Davie, Nativity in Hollywood, St. Mark in Southwest Ranches, Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes, Immaculate Conception in Hialeah, and St. Brendan and St. Mary Cathedral in Miami were on hand. The dance team from St. Thomas University performed briefly at halftime.
Anthony Vuono of Immaculata-La Salle High School in Miami, Rafael Ferreiro of Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale, and David Fique of Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Miami served as honorary coaches for the priests’ team.
“It was wonderful, a true model of Church and community, a whole wonderful finale for Catholic Schools Week,” said Donald Edwards, associate superintendent of Schools for the archdiocese.
St. Thomas University campus ministry students Charles Bwanika, Juan Pablo Castellanos and Dylan Francisco served as referee and linesmen, respectively. Joemma Vomvolakis sang the national anthem. Choripan food truck fed the crowd.
Archbishop Wenski recited the opening prayer and did the coin toss at the start of the game, then presented the golden trophy to the seminarians – who then hoisted it aloft the same way pros do after championship games. Since they won, the cup will be inscribed with “Seminarians 2023” and remain in the Vocations Office until next year’s game – which hasn’t been confirmed but certainly looks likely.
“If this was what we could do with seven weeks of planning, imagine what we can do with a year of planning for the 2024 Archbishop’s Cup,” said an ecstatic Father Matthew Gomez, archdiocesan director of vocations.
The seminarians and priests also received gag gifts: toddlers’ “sippy cups” for the seminarians and (sorely needed) muscle rub for the priests.
Although the seminarians scored in the fourth minute, the priests regained control later in the first half, coming very close on two occasions. The first was a penalty around the 27th minute after a foul on forward Father Fredy Yara, parochial vicar at St. Stephen Church in Miramar. Taken by Father Ivan Rodriguez, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Fort Lauderdale, his powerful shot unfortunately hit the crossbar.
A few minutes later, Father Rodriguez had another chance during a scramble in front of the seminarians’ goal, but goalie Emanuel Magallanes, of Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary in Hialeah, miraculously scooped it up.
The seminarians would score again in the 12th and 29th minute of the second half to seal the victory. The seminarians who scored were all from Redemptoris Mater: co-captain Samuele D’Angelo (also named most valuable player), Deacon Saul Araujo and Carlos Escamilla.
Among the standout players for the priests was Father Fritzner Bellonce, pastor of Holy Family Church in North Miami, whose quickness in defense kept the seminarians from scoring more goals. He also managed to earn the game’s sole yellow card from the referee after a desperation tackle outside the penalty box.
If the Archbishop’s Cup is played again next year, the priests’ team has reason to hope: The three deacons on the seminarians’ team expect to be ordained this May, thus reinforcing the priests’ ranks.
Intern Emily Chaffins contributed to this report.