By Andrea Cuesta
Rome, Apr 22 (EFE).- A group of 10 people warm up on a small pitch in Rome in what would be a perfectly unremarkable scene were it not for the fact that the players are in fact nuns who have swapped out their habits for football boots.
Sister Emilia Jitaru, 52, is one of the veteran players at Sister Football Team, one of four teams that play in Italy’s national football league for nuns, which is backed by both the Italian Olympic committee and the country’s football federation.
Thanks to this one-of-a-kind league, Sister Emilia has rediscovered a passion for football that she in her teenage years saw her reach the heady heights of the national team in her native Romania.
“I thought that, when I took the vows aged 23, I had hung up my boots for good,” she tells Efe in an interview during a break in training.
Sister Emilia was not finished with the beautiful game, as it turned out.
She ran a football school for children until 2021, when she was recruited by this unique team of fellow nuns, which has become something of a curiosity for the young teams they often play against.
“When they see us, the young players are surprised that we are nuns who wear trousers and play football,” she says with a chuckle.
But the footballing nuns take the game seriously, training hard and employing the tactics set out by their trainer and founder Moreno Buccianti, who in 2015 established a football team for priests.
Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, Buccianti decided it was time to bring together a group of nuns who were passionate about the game.
Heeding his call, 18 nuns from all over Italy and from varying orders joined the novel league.
“Our championship is different because we are monks from distinct orders, which is not easy, but we have one objective, to evangelize, because even if we are competing, we are playing for Christ, our biggest follower,” Sister Emilia says.
She adds that while Italian football and the church are male-dominated, the first person to come and see the team play was Pope Francis.
The religious team’s next tournament is due to be held in Assisi, the birthplace of Saint Francis, and Buccianti hopes that the event will help build momentum for the league. EFE