Why Kids Are Playing With Saints in Italy
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Soccer is a religion, so why can’t religion be like soccer?
By Silvia Marchetti
To Italians, soccer is like religious faith. You either believe, or you don’t — and most Italians do. They’d die for their favorite team, hearts pounding and sweat trickling down cheeks at each match.
So what if religion were also like soccer? If its protagonists — saints and martyrs with their stories and lessons — were just as easy to see and learn about as soccer stars? Well, that would certainly have helped me better appreciate the Gospel better as a kid, when I was forced to attend boring catechism lessons at my old Catholic parish. Instead of listening to our preachy teacher, my friends and I played Hangman in our Bibles and exchanged photos of barechested Brad Pitt. Not so spiritual.
But children in a tiny village in northern Liguria are luckier: A priest there, Roberto Fiscer, has created a peculiarly profane “Saints’ Stickers Album,” like those of cartoon series, animals and soccer players that drive kids insane. The album has made superstars of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Padre Pio and St. Francis, just like Portugal squad captain Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentine phenomenon Lionel Messi. Children are in a mystical fit. Imagine them saying stuff like: “I’ll exchange my St. Peter sticker for your St. Thomas” … “No way! St. Peter’s hard to find” … “Oh, my God, I’m missing St. Paul!”
There are 33 cartoon-style saints (a nod to Christ’s age when he died) divided into three teams that work jointly for God.
Fiscer worked a miracle in hard times for religion: He lured children (and their parents) to mass by distributing the stickers and albums inside the church. It was a blast, literally “sold out” after the first collective prayer. Those who didn’t attend are now chasing the priest across town for a copy and waiting for the second edition of the album, while nearby parishes, somewhat jealous of his religious marketing, will soon do the same. There are 33 cartoon-style saints (a nod to Christ’s age when he died) divided into three teams that work jointly for God, plus one blank space: “Each kid can stick there whoever he wants;” says the priest, because “even ordinary people can be saints in everyday life, not only those acknowledged by the Holy See.”
Fiscer, who has a sweet smiling face, is 38; before embracing God he worked as a DJ on cruise ships across the Mediterranean, entertaining kids and adults with his techno concoctions. Disco music is part of his special relationship with God. He runs a popular digital parish radio station that streams its broadcasts. He also opened Italy’s first “Christian Disco” on the beach, where religious hymns are adapted to techno music. (A top hit: “Shake the Devil Off.”) There’s no cover; friars keep the rowdy ones under control.
Music to him is just another way to spread the Lord’s word. After all, says the priest, “Mary wants us to be happy on this Earth, and when we dance, sing, have fun in a healthy way, she’s happy, too.” Now, who wouldn’t want such a lad at their own parish?
- Silvia Marchetti, OZY Author Contact Silvia Marchetti