Sport is always a great way to bring people together. This is especially important when you live in a barrio where there are migrants from different countries. With that in mind the young and not so young from the various Catholic churches in Alto Hospicio gathered for a soccer tournament last year.
Teams from the Columban Parish of Sagrada Corazón and Doce Apostoles both participated. I work in the comedor (a soup kitchen), in the shanty town near the main parish church of Sagrada Corazón (Sacred Heart).
A soccer pitch has been created behind the church. Given that we can have up to 60 kids in attendance for meals at the comedor, we were confident that we could form teams from different age groups of boys and girls. And what better way to run off the day’s lunch cooked by the local mothers!
The new pitch behind the church of Sagrada Corazón. Photo: Missionary Society of St Columban
Cars packed with enthusiastic children, we set off to the school designated for the days activities. Undoubtedly we were a multinational force with not only Chileans but also Bolivians, Columbians, Peruvians and an Irish trainer who was nearly getting as excited as the kids.
We arrived on time but seemed to be the only ones to do so. Was it cancelled without notice? Stranger things have happened here. However, in typical Chilean style, participants began to arrive in dribs and drabs until eventually a good sized crowd had assembled. The kids persisted with impatient questions while I tried to find out what was going on.
A couple of hours after the start time – at last, we started! Teams were registered and three small soccer pitches eventually sprung into life. The only synthetic one was reserved for the ‘ninos’ and ‘ninas’, the smaller boys and girls which signified anyone up to 12 years old within grabbing distance. The higher age groups took their skills to the concrete pitches.
Our first game was with the young girls and, despite a valiant display, the greater size of the opposition combined with our lack of training resulted in a loss. No matter. A Bolivian mother vowed to take them in hand in the future for further development.
Next up was our teenage boys. Somehow we were paired against a team of grown men who looked like they had just arrived from the mines after a hard day’s work. Upon reasoned protestations from myself about this ‘David and Goliath’ contest it was decided to rearrange things and we were matched with more suitable opponents. Our team made up mostly of Columbians and a couple of Bolivians, had skills that Pele himself would have been proud of. Unfortunately, the beautiful game wasn’t enough against a more direct Chilean side and we suffered a narrow defeat.
The day took a turn for the better when the young boys took to the field and combined both skill and discipline to produce a well-deserved win and a place in the final. However, before that, our team of women had to compete. Our opponents were from the main parish church so there was a keen sense of competition. It was a bruising affair with injuries, yellow cards and a besieged referee. Games don’t come much tighter than this as players clashed and fought for every ball. Unfortunately our opponents took the spoils in a testy affair.
However, now we had to focus on the final for the boys. Given that it was the last game of the day a crowd circled the pitch and the kids of the shantytown of Sagrado Corazón were ready for action.
Once again they produced a magnificent display as our supporters urged them on, the excitement building. Our opponents were no match for our multinational force and we succeeded in bringing home the win. Hands were shaken and celebrations began.
We were the final team to receive the cup at the presentations and the kids enthusiastically embraced their trophy and raised it in the air to shouts of joy. With heads held high we packed everyone into the cars again bound for home. Due to the late start we didn’t get to enjoy the planned ‘completos’ which are the Chilean version of hot dogs and one of the kids’ favourites snacks. Not to worry. That would be left for another day and nothing was going to dampen their spirits for that night at least. Now with our new soccer pitch behind the church hopefully we have a good platform to progress in the future.
Oisín Kenny is a Columban Lay Missionary in Chile.
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- Read more from The Far East, March 2019