They stand out for their robes just as much as for their footwork. Dressed in long, black cassocks that skim the grass, a priest and three priests-in-training form a loose circle, deftly kicking a bright yellow soccer ball to one another.
Birthday balloons waft lazily and eager pups run across the field. It’s a late summer afternoon at Prospect Park. The air is crisp, the sun warm.
The ball spins and jumps up above them, tracing neon arcs in the air. They don’t just use their feet: The priest headers the ball, and it’s a testament to his skill that his spectacles don’t fall off with the move, swift and accurate. A seminarian bounces the ball back with a thrust of his chest, and another sends it back up in the air with a quick jab of his knee.
Their black cassocks swirl about their feet with each movement. They look like whirling dervishes across a field of grass.
Father Mariano Ruiz and his three seminarians are in New York to spend a week at the Co-Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Brooklyn. They’re visiting from Washington D.C., though Father Mariano was born in Argentina, and the seminarians in Paraguay and Chile — all places where soccer is the national pastime. One of them hands me a small flyer with the schedule for the weekend. There is a talk at the cathedral in Spanish later that evening, and a parish-wide barbeque the following day. All are welcome.
They’re here to spread their message of faith, Father Mariano explains. Thirty-four years old, he pursued his religious vocation after graduating from college, and now teaches theology and history, among other subjects in the curriculum for the priesthood, to seminarians.
But, on this one summer afternoon, the priest and his students just want to play. “We definitely attract attention,” he laughs. “Which I suppose helps our mission, in a way.” Fluorescent orange soccer cleats peek out from under his dark robe, winking, before the men return to their game.