Pope Francis receives a tennis racket during an audience with the Italian Tennis Federation in Paul VI hall at the Vatican May 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Once “all the details of hospitality” are taken care of for the International Tennis Tournament for Priests June 28-30 in Lincoln, Nebraska, Fr. Brian Connor hopes he can “focus on Jesus and the little yellow ball” during the competition.

The tournament is being held at the city’s Genesis Racket Club. There are four divisions for singles (Open, 45+, 55+ and 65+). There are two divisions for doubles (Open and 95+).

As of June 3, the priest said 46 priests have registered to play, hailing from Poland, Philippines, Slovakia, Canada, Argentina, Indonesia and the United States. Another half dozen or so are coming in from other states and countries to watch the competition.

A registration form and contact information can be found at prieststennis2019.wixsite.com/home. Information on the website is in English and Spanish and includes a history of the tournament in Poland and other information.

Participants can fly into Lincoln or into Omaha, which is 45 minutes away. They will stay at Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat House in Waverly, Nebraska. Their accommodations, food, ground transportation and registration are all provided by benefactors of the tournament.

The event is not just about tennis, Fr. Connor told Catholic News Service.

Each morning Mass will be celebrated: on June 28, Mass will be at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ; that day is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests; on June 29, Mass will be at St. Peter Church for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul; and on June 30, Mass will be at North American Martyrs Church, which is Fr. Connor’s parish.

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This is the first year the tournament has been held in the U.S., said Fr. Connor, who, with the support of Lincoln Bishop James D. Conley, offered to host it in his city “as an effort to grow the base from America and spread the enjoyment of what we love doing; which is playing tennis and fraternizing with brother priests.”

What’s now an annual international competition started in Poland as a table tennis tourney for Polish priests, he said, and moved to the tennis court in 1996. It was then held annually in various Polish cities, especially Krakow and Warsaw. In 2012, it went international and has been in Italy, the Philippines and now the U.S.

Fr. Connor said he first learned about the tournament from one priest-friend, then he and another priest-friend competed in 2012. That year, Fr. Connor “lost in the quarterfinals and as much as I loved the trip, fraternity and whole experience, I was disappointed with my play,” he said, but he returned the following year, and had “better results and enjoyed it completely.”

He participated last year in Zywiec, Poland. “It was another very memorable trip,” he said. Then came the suggestion he host it in Lincoln. Two other Lincoln diocesan priests have helped organize the tournament, Fathers Matthew Eickhoff and Thomas MacLean.

Tennis “is a game for all ages,” said Fr. Connor, 59, noting he has played the sport with his 17-year-old nephew and also plays doubles regularly with an octogenarian.

In the tournament, “we have some who are 30 years old and several who are 70 years old,” remarked the priest, who was ordained in 1989 for the Lincoln Diocese.

“As a priest, I try to play for at least one hour every week on my day off. I find that is enough to keep my game at a decent level,” he told CNS. “I come from a family of five boys so we always had someone to play against. When we get together, we still play tennis with mixed doubles, doubles and singles. My sister-in-law played professionally … so she keeps us humble.”

“Tennis is a game that gives a good cardio workout, doesn’t take a long time, is not expensive with public courts and is social,” he added.

During the International Priests Tennis Tournament, “we pray together, eat together and battle on the court. … At times, it is best to have referees to step in and call lines,” he said. “Also, with language barriers, someone else keeping score is a relief.”

“We have Mass together and lots of breviaries (are) seen at the courtside,” he added. “The guys have a good time, joking, visiting, watching the matches and hanging around others who love the sport of tennis.”

“With various gifts of faith, hospitality, cooking, chauffeuring, photography, organization, love for tennis (sports), music, welcoming and kindness, we will have a wonderful tournament,” said a news release announcing the event in early May.

Food will feature popular local cuisine including Nebraska beef; “runzas,” which are yeast dough bread pockets filled with beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions and seasonings; and Valentino’s Pizza.

By Julie Asher, Catholic News Service.