Sister Marija Zrno (on the left) and members of her community of nuns supporting Croatia at the 2022 World Cup. / Credit: Courtesy of Sister Marija Zrno

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 21, 2022 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

Croatian nun Marija Zrno, a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul known for her love of soccer, recently reflected on the relationship between the spiritual life and the “beautiful game,” saying: “They are epic battles.”

In an interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, Zrno said that “both the spiritual life and soccer are epic battles. To be a successful soccer player, you have to train every day. It’s the same with spirituality: If you’re not persistent and pray regularly, you will become lazy, lukewarm, and your life will not bear fruit.”

“Whoever 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’s this moment that makes the difference between realized and unrealized potentials, both in football and in religion,” she said.

Zrno cares for children and young people, but she is also known in Croatia for her knowledge of soccer and has sometimes shared her sports analysis on television channels.

Croatia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

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

“The Croats stood out for their humanity after achieving hard victories,” she noted.

“They didn’t humiliate their opponents,” she said, but “consoled and encouraged the opposing players and thus showed that soccer is first and foremost an opportunity to show humanity.”

An example of this was the scene in which Luka Modrić hugged and consoled the Brazilian footballer Rodrygo Goes after the match in which Croatia beat Brazil in the quarterfinals and went on to the semifinals.

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

“That’s when the World Cup performance has meaning,” she noted.

A rosary for the National Team

Sister Zrno said that before Croatia’s match with Japan in the Round of 16 of Qatar 2022, “together with Father 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 Fiery Ones.”

On that day of prayer, said the nun, “young and old people from all over Croatia participated, where everyone said a prayer as part of the rosary and we shared the video on social media so that we could 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 overtime, also prayed a Hail Mary,” she 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 tips and support on behalf of the entire Croatian nation.”

The Catholic faith and Croatia

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

“Today’s coach, Zlatko Dalić, who is not afraid to publicly testify to his faith, continued in this direction,” she 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 soccer team went to the Holy Mass celebrated by Father Domagoj Matošević after breakfast.”

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

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

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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