ABOVE: Fr. Clement Attah, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Joy Parish in Carefree, kicks the ball during the Padre Kino Cup soccer match May 30. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

By Margaret Naczek
The Catholic Sun

It was a battle for East and West at Bourgade Catholic High School on May 30. Competitors donned black and white uniforms and laced up their cleats in a matchup that would lead East Valley victorious in a 7-0 shootout. Fans decorated signs and proudly blew their horns and noisemakers, rooting for their favorite players.

But in the end, it was a winning game for the Diocese of Phoenix in the inaugural Padre Kino Cup between the priests and seminarians of the West and East Valleys.

Br. Elijah Delello, FHS, from St. John the Baptist in Laveen, who played for the West Valley, said he’d only played soccer when he was young, but was still excited to participate even though it might be a disaster.

Br. Elijah said he enjoyed “the fraternity, … playing soccer and having fun with some of the guys who are discerning the priesthood or who are already priests.”

Roughly 25 priests and seminarians played for each team, with some possessing more athletic skills than others.

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Br. John of the Cross Costantino, FHS, also from St. John the Baptist, played center midfielder in college and during his time at the seminary. He believed the soccer tournament showed the public the authenticity of priests and seminarians.

“Playing sports and doing manly things is something that is important to the priesthood, just embracing that masculine identity that the Lord has given us,” he said.

Fr. Paul Sullivan, director of vocations and pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Phoenix, helped organize the event. Last year, seminarians from the diocese played against seminarians from the Tucson Diocese. He joked at the event that Phoenix beat Tucson so badly they had to make their own event.

But the real purpose of the event was to raise awareness for vocations.

“Everyone is called to something,” Fr. Sullivan said. “What they’re called to is going to make them the most happy. To see the options in a faith-filled, joyful way is the best way to discern.”

Seminarian Noah Minton and associate vocations director Fr. Fernando Camou at the Padre Kino Cup soccer match May 30. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Rosa Fowler from St. Timothy Parish in Mesa heard about the event from Fr. Sullivan and took her family out to the event.

“He mentioned the priests from the East were going to challenge the priests from the West in soccer, and we love soccer, so we said we’re coming to see you,” Fowler said.

She hopes the young men in attendance can look at the priests and seminarians playing soccer and realize the priesthood and religious life is an option for discernment.

“I think our young boys just want to be able to relate to the priests,” she said.

Kate Howell from Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral snapped pictures along the sideline of the priests and seminarians warming up before the game. She said she came out to support the Catholic Church, priests, seminarians and fitness.

“It’s a very exciting time to be Catholic because we have a great faith, and this is just a part of it here when we see these men coming together and all of us supporting it,” Howell said.

Howell described priests as mountain lions with their powerful presence.

“It shows a different side of the men who take care of us spiritually,” she said. “I’m looking at a bunch of mountain lions over here, protecting us, watching over us.”

Associate judicial vicar Fr. Ernesto Reynoso lead his East Valley team in holding up the Padre Kino Cup following their win during the inaugural soccer match May 30. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Despite a blowout by the East Valley, the priests and seminarians were joking and laughing the whole way through the tournament. Seminarians flung T-shirts into the crowd and stopped to take pictures with some of their parishioners.

Even the referees got into the spirit of the day. Kevin Boudreau honorarily changed his name to Mark to coincide with his fellow referees — John, Luke and Matt.

“We’ve been dubbed the ‘Gospel Referee Crew,’” he said with a laugh.

Seeing the priests and seminarians as real people is what many said brought them out to the event.

“It’s good for brotherhood, fellowship,” said seminarian Gabriel Sabado, who played for the West Valley, his parish being St. Clare of Assisi in Surprise. “I think it’s good to just come to see that we’re men. We’re humans.”

“We are all just regular guys,” added Fr. Sullivan. “We’ve come from regular backgrounds. A lot of us grew up playing sports and we still enjoy. I think that’s good for the people to see.”