US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Goal for God!

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It's the time of year for faith and football (or soccer) to come together, and not just at the World Cup in South Africa.

In Rome on Saturday the Pontifical North American College soccer team will face defending champs Redemptoris Mater in the Clericus Cup finals, a rematch from last year's finals. The event is complete with a Booster Club tailgate, according to the school's website.

PNAC must be hoping that soccer star/seminarian Chase Hilgenbrinck will spend a spring in Rome. Formerly a professional player in Chile, he signed on to the New England Revolution shortly before leaving Major League Soccer to become a priest in 2007. He has since led Mount St. Mary's University-Seminary soccer team to two Rector's Cup championships (though they won a few before he came too).

Hilgenbrinck's path may have veered away from soccer, but his teammate from Clemson University has found a way to live out the faith on the field. If you watch any World Cup play, it'll be hard to miss Oguchi Onyewu, a star defender on the U.S. National Team and the first American to sign with AC Milan, one of Europe's top teams. Americans are hoping Gooch will be a dominating force on the field after spending seven months recovering from knee surgery, but off the field, he may be surrounded by women.

I was surprised when his publicists contacted us about him being in the magazine (he and Chase are in the June issue). A quick search of him shows that he has posed for some revealing photos, but even in Essence's Eye Candy, he talks about being Catholic.

"My religion and my faith in God has been and is the main reason I have been able to be successful in my life and career," he told us through his publicist. It turns out he and Chase are still good friends (this picture was sent to us from Chase though Mount St. Mary's).

In addition to speaking openly about his faith, Gooch uses his popularity to raise awareness of social issues including AIDS in Africa and racism. His own experience of racism as a Nigerian American player led Onyewu to partner with the United Nations' Kick Out Racism from Football campaign.

The World Cup has also been a good opportunity to raise awareness of human trafficking and prostitution, though hopefully the event will not also be a catalyst for it as well.