As an American living in Italy in a house of priests from the world over, it is hard not to get excited about the World Cup. For the opening match the Brazilians made Caipirinhas and the Croats had exotic eastern european beers that I had never heard of. The other guys mock me, of course, when I say that the U.S. could make some noise in the tournament. The Italians have a fatal sense of the unfolding of a once great "calcio" power.
Meanwhile, the Spaniards walked around with a quiet confidence, until the played the Netherlands of course. If I point out to the Portuguese that I think that they won't make it out of group play, they look at me as if I should be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the most recent name for the old inquisition. This is the World Cup seen from the international perspective of a community of Priests in Rome.
Yet for all of this, as a person who has been to Brazil, as a person who has witnessed its natural beauty and the beauty of its music, art, and architecture, as a person who has drunk deep of the beaches in Bahia and felt the beat of samba in Rio reverberating in his core, as a person who was warmly welcomed, befriended, and changed forever by its people, I am conflicted. I am conflicted because I have seen an infrastructure which is in desperate need of repair and upgrade. I am conflicted because those first few kilometers from the airport into the center of Rio go through densely packed favelas. I am conflicted because I know that, despite how hard many Brazilians work, economic conditions work against them in preparing these sorts of events. I am conflicted because I lived through World Youth Day 2013 which, among the three events planned for Rio between 2013 and 2016 was by far the biggest in terms of people present and for which the mayor of Rio said; "Only (Pope) Francis can save this," and which he admitted later was organizationally, on a scale of 1 to 10 closer to a zero.
I am conflicted because, as I flew from Rio to Salvador for the first time a few years back I could see them tearing down perfectly good stadiums to build new ones merely to meet FIFA's need for luxury boxes. It is frustrating to hear from Brazilian friends about the need for improvements in the country that they have been denied for years because there was ostensibly no money, that now the government has mysterious found the money only to direct it away from the schools and hospitals the country needs towards stadiums, some of which will be used for four games and then perhaps never again.
Still I am excited about the World Cup, and not just in the way that Americans get excited about soccer once every four years when it is us against the world. I am excited because it may just be that, being put on a world stage in all of its beauty, but also in all of its need, that those who govern Brazil may have to finally begin to address the problems. I hope that the protests continue non-violently, and I hope that the press has the courage to cover the sometimes brutally violent ways in which the Favelas are "pacified." I am excited for the soccer, but I hope that, as all sports should, it can be a means to the end.
I hope, as the Pope said, that it can be a means to the end of genuine solidarity, a solidarity that recognizes that a soccer pitch shouldn't be the only level playing field. I hope that the sense of pride in our respective nations that something like this inspires unites us, rather than divides us, because it is something that we all share, and in that vein, lets be honest, I hope that the U.S. wins... however crazy a hope that might be. It is such hope, though, that teaches us to hope for better things if we'll let it. So let's hope for our teams, let's enjoy the games, but let's not be afraid to be conflicted as well, so that or small hopes for victory might be mere precursors to our greater hopes for the full flourishing of all of humanity.