Monday, February 24, 2014

A twist on the idea of separation of church and state

Actually, there is no separation of church and state in Bolivia. For as long as we’ve been involved in this delightful country, the church, in all its manifestations, has fallen under the Ministry of Culto, part of the President’s Cabinet. Culto refers to (and here I translate from the authoratative Larouse Dictionary of the Spanish Language) “reverent homage that human beings attribute to the divine; the acts and ceremonies with which this tribute is rendered; the administration of the above.” Subsumed under the Ministry of Culto are religion, cultural events and sports. You can see the connection. Deep reverence ties the three together as they bow the knee before Caesar.
But this very year a change has been instituted into the political system. A newly created Ministry of Sports has arisen, with its own Minister and body of governing policies. So instead of separation of church and state, we now have the separation of church and soccer.
Several years ago, I read an article on the front page of the sports section of a Bolivian newspaper. The was the Saturday before Easter Sunday, and the key Bolivian and Argentinian soccer teams were playing a World Cup elimination game in Santa Cruz. The Archbishop was invited to pray for the team, and the headline of the article read: “A Tiny Helping-Hand from God: The Bolivian Soccer Teams Asks a Blessing.” I poetically paraphrased this prayer.

(The Bolivian Soccer Team Asks a Blessing)
Our Father Which Art
in Heaven, on earth, and most especially in Bolivia,
hallowed and hollered be your name.
We, who bow to no one,
bend our heads in devotion to seek your blessing
this Holy Week.  We remember
your death, and plead that it not be in vain,
plead that you remember our Life and let
us win tomorrow’s game.
Resurrect our hopes to place.
Let next year’s Cup not pass from us.
Bless our kicks, our passes, our
blocks and our sprints.  Let us score
against the enemy, whose name is
Argentina.  Reward our faith.
Grant peace to our land and goals to our team.
Give us just a tiny helping Hand,
and we will inscribe your name
forever in our hearts
and on our trophies.


  1. You made me laugh on a day when I thought there were no laughs inside me. You are truly a delightful friend.

  2. I really needed this. Thank you!

  3. Ha! Awesome. I don't remember if I've already told you this story, but in seminary I had a professor who gave a church history lecture on secularization, particularly in Europe. In the middle of the lecture, he took off his sport coat, then started loosening his tie. We were all thinking he was just a little warm, but then he took off the tie completely. He unbuttoned his sleeves and rolled them up, then started unbuttoning his shirt and took it off to reveal a soccer jersey! It was a well-played object lesson to show the significance of fútbol clubs in European societies, which probably is similar to Latin America--that people organize their social life around their sports team and the "holy-days" of special sporting events, and this serves the same functions that the church used to. He asked us to think about the difference between this kind of club and the church--what does the church have that these clubs don't? What is it we think we're offering, or are we just another in an array of possible social clubs?

  4. That's fascinating, sounds very Latin-like. I remember when the pastor of the biggest Friends meeting in La Paz (400 attenders) called in sick one Sunday and "secretly" attended the soccer match. On Monday a crowd shot that featured him yelling with raised fists made the front page of the morning papers. He never lived that down. (And I've never stopped laughing.)