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Vatican XI goes on tour in September, playing Anglicans and royal household

The pope and queen of England are squaring off on the cricket pitch — sort of.

The Vatican's new cricket team is going on tour, fielding a largely Indian team to play an Anglican squad at the Kent County Cricket Club and the royal household's XI at Windsor Castle.

The Sept. 12-20 "Light of Faith Tour" aims to forge closer ties between the Catholic and Anglican churches, which split in 1534 after English King Henry VIII was refused a marriage annulment. A half-millennium later, the two churches remain divided on a host of issues, including female bishops.

On the pitch though, the teams will play a Twenty20 match for a common cause: to raise money for an interfaith initiative to combat human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

The Vatican formed its team last year, tapping mostly Indian and Sri Lankan priests, deacons and seminarians studying in Rome. The idea was to play an Anglican squad in England in a show of ecumenical good sportsmanship, according to the godfather of the project, Australia's ambassador to the Holy See and longtime cricket aficionado, John McCarthy.

But during Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby's recent visit to Rome, members of the St. Peter's Cricket Club indicated they would like to meet with the queen, royal family or household as well during their tour.

On the eve of the announcement of the team lineup for the Sept. 19 Catholic-Anglican match at Kent, the royal household confirmed the invitation for the Vatican team to play at Windsor for a warm-up match Sept. 17.

"This initiative has taken on royal proportions," quipped team manager the Rev. Eamonn O'Higgins.

"We hope through what we do, through our example, through the way we play and the way we conduct ourselves in England and on the tour, we'll be known not just as moderate cricket players, but people through whom God's presence is made evident," he told reporters Monday.

The Vatican's culture ministry has long embraced sports as an important area for the Catholic Church, to engage with young people and offer its values amid corruption, match-fixing, doping and other problems afflicting sport today, said Monsignor Melchor Sanchez de Toca, the No. 2 in the Vatican's culture ministry.

"The world of sports needs to be healed," he said. "Those responsible for the international federation of sports and Olympic committees are aware of the evils surrounding the world of sports — sometimes they are even accomplices — but they do not know how to cope with this problem."

"We want to be there and to help the world of sports to find its values," he said.

Not that the pope's squad isn't gearing up for some hard-fought matches.

McCarthy, the Australian ambassador, said he had heard that Queen Elizabeth II's royal household team featured Grenadier Guards and the royal household cavalry.

"We will take the Swiss Guards if that's the case," he said.

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield