Watching the World Cup games, most Korean Catholics are pleased to see players make the sign of the cross after scoring a goal. Appreciating the joy and gratitude after such a feat by making a sign of the cross, if not by some other gesture of elation, seems a natural thing to Korean Catholics. Making the sign of the cross is a regular part of their lives; even when snacking, many precede the eating by the sign of the cross.
In recent months, one of the Buddhist groups asked the soccer league to stop the religious ceremonies on the playing field. In response, a journalist for the Catholic Times wrote: "Is it wrong to pray?" Apparently, a league official of the FIFA had asked the players to refrain from any religious displays on the field, considering them out of place on the soccer field.
The players were not happy with the request and made it clear that there was nothing in the rules that would be against expressing joy after a goal. The regulations prohibit political acts, or acts that demean opposing teams or incite the crowd, but there is no prohibition of prayers and rituals.
One of our Korean players, a Protestant, after a goal gets down on his knees to pray, and in Europe and South America, you will occasionally see players making the sign of the cross. For a Catholic, the connection with those players is somewhat closer.
Besides religious displays, there are also displays that involve kissing a ring, doing a jig, somersaulting, and whatever else the player feels properly expresses joy and gratitude for the success of the moment.
These are ways of adding a little more luster to the sport. The journalist is hoping to see many making the sign of the cross, since many of the teams participating in the World Cup games come from predominantly Catholic countries. He is surprised that some have difficulty with these rituals and believes this is a very pre-modern way of seeing what is happening on the soccer field.
For a non-religious person, what is seen is considered superstitious, a return to a previous pre-scientific age, and therefore a childish way of acting. Many see these religious displays as divisive and tend to separate us, but they may also be seen as acts that show us how much larger life is than what we have come to make of it. We need not agree with the expressions we see, but we should be big enough to appreciate what moves others to express what they feel in their hearts. Without this understanding, life becomes drab and joyless in a separate, self-limiting world, instead of a life that opens up to a larger world we can joyfully share with others.