Italian basketball wants its own Patron Saint and the request has already reached the Vatican: “Bless and protect my team”

The church of Madonna del Ponte, or Madonna del Puente, in Porretta Terme, Italy, this month. Credit Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times Jason Horowitz

In the chapel of a small sanctuary located on the side of a hill in Porretta Terme, a beautiful city in central Italy that is known for the healing powers of its thermal waters, a single window in the shape of a basketball, with its crystals curved like seams, it illuminated the walls lined with sports jerseys.

On a table, a notebook contained pages of devotionals, including gratitude for a healed meniscus and prayers to “win the championship for years to come.” On the back wall there is a bas-relief of a dying basketball player with a ball in his left hand, while the Virgin Mary watches her time run out on this plane.

“I offer you the joy of each score,” said Don Filippo Maestrello, a local priest who is the height of a pivot, to the Virgin of the Bridge in the Chapel of the Basketball Players.

A window designed like a basketball inside the Basketball Players' Chapel at Madonna of the Bridge Church.Credit ... Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times
A window designed like a basketball inside the Basketball Players’ Chapel at Madonna of the Bridge Church.Credit … Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times
Souvenirs and sculpture of a player inside the chapel.  Credit ... Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times
Souvenirs and sculpture of a player inside the chapel. Credit … Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times

The founder of the local basketball association and the city’s tourism and sports official bowed their heads to their side as the priest continued, imploring Our Lady to “guide our shot in the right direction” and to “bless and protect my team”.

Porretta residents have for centuries venerated Our Lady of the Bridge, named after a 16th-century drawing of the Virgin Mary found on a rock near a bridge over the Reno River. Over the years, the rock became a place of devotion, which ultimately inspired the construction of the shrine where Maestrello prayed.

Locals credited Our Lady of the Bridge with performing miracles, such as saving a 17th-century pilgrim on the bridge by stopping the bullets fired by a Florentine assassin.

But until very recently they say that he has brought his talents and divine interventions to the basketball court. After a decades-long campaign by local basketball fans, in May, the Italian Episcopal Conference gave its approval for the image to be officially recognized as the patron saint of Italian basketball.

The request is now in the hands of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which declined to comment on how the case of the patron saint is progressing.

Guglielmo Bernardi, the former head of the local basketball association who has been a driving force behind the initiative, said he understood that the passage from the Vatican was like a layup pitch.

Guglielmo Bernardi en Porretta.  Credit Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times
Guglielmo Bernardi en Porretta. Credit Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times

“A formality,” he said a few days ago, as he walked towards the main square of the city, full of butcher shops, tortellini restaurants, a medieval tower and shops selling fabrics, slippers and walking shoes. The long plaza, he said, had also served as a makeshift outdoor court for a popular regional basketball tournament.

“We were famous for injuries,” said Bernardi, pointing to the unevenness of the street.

Vaguely, Bernardi traces Porretta’s passion for basketball back to Italian POWs who learned the game from their American captors. By the early 1950s, Porretta had emerged as the national center for women’s basketball in a hoops-obsessed part of Italy. In 1956, a religious ceremony consecrated the Chapel of the Basketball Players and a long procession of players carried torches and candles to the sanctuary.

Since then, the city has become the capital of youth basketball with tournaments in honor of the consecration of the chapel. Local and regional players began making pilgrimages to Our Lady for help on game day, leaving offerings of T-shirts, just as their ancestors left medals.

Nicolò Savigni, local councilor for sport and tourism, said that the Virtus team from Bologna came to pray before a big match and won. In 2020, Meo Sacchetti, the coach of Italy’s national basketball team, came to the chapel and paid his respects to the Virgin. The team qualified for the Olympics that year, the first time in 17 years.

“She must have watched the national team from above,” Sacchetti said.

For Porretta, it is also a fulcrum for economic development.

Pennants of various teams hanging in a hotel in Porretta Terme.  Credit ... Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times
Pennants of various teams hanging in a hotel in Porretta Terme. Credit … Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times
The altar of the church.  Credit ... Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times
The altar of the church. Credit … Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times

The current city administration recently reached an agreement with a Bologna corporation to upgrade its network of thermal baths, which could attract more seniors seeking to soothe their aching bones. But the official recognition of the Virgin could attract more young pilgrims, said Enrico Della Torre, 33, a local official in charge of economic development, as he walked down the main street one recent morning.

Encouraging younger visitors “is the most important thing for the rebirth of these towns,” he said.

Despite being a city of 4000 inhabitants, Porretta is the scene of many things. For more than 30 years, soul music fans have made a pilgrimage to the Porretta Soul Festival, when stone walls are illuminated with murals of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s and other stars.

While walking around town, Bernardi, who also organizes a progressive rock festival in Porretta, bumped into 72-year-old Graziano Uliani, the sociable founder of the soul festival and also a basketball fan. Uliani talked about famous basketball players she met while following musicians in Memphis, Tennessee, and Los Angeles. He also talked about his festival until Bernardi, noting the time, said he was heading to the shrine to meet the priest, Maestrello.

In his car, with a retro T-shirt on the back seat, he passed the run-down hot springs where, he said, many locals worked in their youth. He crossed the bridge over the Reno River to the domed sanctuary and waited outside for the priest and Savigni, the councilor.

It was cold and quiet except for the sound of rushing river water. A local came by and told Bernardi that the Virgin had saved his life for the second time after a second heart attack.

After Maestrello’s prayers at the shrine, Savigni confessed to me: “We are planning to build a large arena in honor of the patron.”

Practicing on the local court.  Credit ... Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times
Practicing on the local court. Credit … Camilla Ferrari for The New York Times

Later that day, the three men drove to a local gym where a basketball school organizer had prayed to Our Lady for intercession so the sport could survive the coronavirus lockdowns. The children were taking lessons with Francesco Della Torre, a former Italian league player and brother of Enrico Della Torre, the economic development official. (“To beat him I would have needed to spend days praying in the chapel,” said Enrico Della Torre). A ball bounced towards Maestrello who caught it and tried to shoot it from the corner. It was a ball in the air.

“When I enter the court, everyone is terrified,” said the high prelate. “And then the first pass happens.”

Maestrello felt more at home in the large parish church in the center of town, where he displayed the basketball trophies kept in a warehouse and to be used in a possible museum to the patron saint. Bernardi opened a gray suitcase of basketball jerseys, some signed by entire NBA teams. With reverence, he produced a Lakers jersey, apparently signed by Kobe Bryant, the Italian-speaking superstar, and spent part of his childhood in a nearby town.

When Bryant died in a helicopter crash in 2020, Bernardi mentioned: “We all prayed together at the sanctuary. For us he was an idol ”. He whispered Bryant’s nickname under his breath. “The Black Mamba”.

(c) The New York Times

KEEP READING:

The incredible care of the Italian basketball team that will return to training in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic
The shocking fortune that Kobe Bryant left and who are his heirs



Reference-www.infobae.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.