“These are epic battles”: Croatian nun highlights relationship between spiritual life and soccer

The Croatian nun Marija Zrno, daughter of the charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and known for her love of soccer, reflected on the relationship between spiritual life and the so-called “beautiful sport”: “They are epic battles.”

Interviewed by ACI Prensa, Sister Marija said that “both spiritual life and soccer are epic battles. To be a successful soccer player, you have to train every day. It is the same with spirituality: If you are not persistent and pray regularly, you will become lazy, lukewarm and your life will not bear fruit.

“He who wants to succeed must push his limits. In sports, this means training even when you’re not ready for it, and in spirituality, praying more when it seems like you can do less.”

“It is this moment that makes the difference between realized and unrealized potentials, both in football and in religion,” he said.

Sister Marija Zrno is dedicated to caring for children and young people, but she is also known in Croatia for her knowledge of football, and has sometimes shared her sports analysis on television channels.

Croatia and the World Cup in Qatar 2022

The nun also spoke about Croatia’s participation in the Qatar 2022 World Cup, where they took third place.

“The Croats stood out for their humanity after hard victories achieved,” he said.

“They did not humiliate their opponents,” he said, but rather “comforted and encouraged the opposing players and thus showed that football is first and foremost an opportunity to show humanity.”

An example of this was the scene in which Luka Modrić hugs and comforts the Brazilian soccer player Rodrygo Goes after the match in which Croatia beat Brazil in the quarterfinals, and went to the semifinals.

For the religious, it is “a great step in the progress of humanity” to see “how children enthusiastically assume the positive characteristics of their soccer heroes.”

“It’s when the performance in the World Cup makes sense,” he said.

A Rosary for the National Team

Sister Marija said that before Croatia’s match with Japan in the round of 16 of Qatar 2022, “together with Fr. Ivan Dominik Iličić we organized the ‘Rosary for Vatreni’ prayer initiative”.

Vatreni is the nickname of the Croatian soccer team, and can be translated as “The Burning Ones”.

In that day of prayer, said the nun, “young and old from all over Croatia participated, where everyone said a prayer as part of the rosary and we shared the video on social networks so that we can all pray together. And we did it before every game”.

“The grandmother of our national team player Ivan Perišić, who scored the goal in the game against Japan that led us to extra time, also prayed a Hail Mary,” he said.

“During that prayer initiative, I myself had the opportunity to send a video to the coach of our national team, Zlatko Dalić, to whom I addressed myself directly and personally, providing advice and support on behalf of the entire Croatian nation.”

The Catholic faith and Croatia

Sister Marija recalled that already in 2014 “the then Croatian coach, Igor Štimac, took the players of the Croatian national team to the well-known Marian sanctuary (in) Međugorje to prepare for the qualifying match for the World Cup”.

“Today’s coach, Zlatko Dalicwho is not afraid to testify publicly about his faith, continued in this direction,” he continued.

“On Sunday, before the game with Japan, the rector of the most famous Croatian national shrine in Marija Bistrica arrived in Qatar from Croatia. It has been confirmed to the public that the entire Croatian national football team went to the Holy Mass celebrated by the priest Domagoj Matošević after breakfast.”

The nun also highlighted that “many Croatian national team players testify openly about their affiliation with the Catholic Church”, and stressed that “it is interesting that captain Luka Modrić wears knee pads with images of his family and Jesus Christ”.

“In addition, in this World Cup in Qatar, the whole world was able to see the Croatian goalkeeper, Dominik Livaković, praying before the penalty shootout,” he said.

“These are epic battles”: Croatian nun highlights relationship between spiritual life and soccer