Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Spirituality of Siblings: In Sports and Beyond

For some reason, stories about siblings fascinate me, and I only have two of them.  Having an older brother and a younger sister has shaped by view of the world in a way that I can never quantify.  We share a common upbringing, parents, values and traditions and yet we are our own unique persons.  I think of who they are, what they do and the impact they have had and I am grateful for the gift they are to the world.  
And my sentiments for my own siblings have led me to ask in wonder: What would it be like to have a brother who is the Pope? or a sister who competing with me for the National Championship women's basketball title?  

I ask these questions because there are people who can actually answer them.  Their insights have colored the way I see Pope Francis and the Louisville Cardinals women's basketball team do what they do.

Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is the fourth of five children born to Mario Jose and Regina Maria Bergoglio. Today he has one living sibling, his youngest sister--Maria Elena Bergoglio, who is 65.  On March 19, 2013 the  Italian Catholic newspaper, Avvenire shared (via NCR) with the world information about their relationship.
She told the newspaper that she and her brother are extremely close, which she attributes to their parents’ emphasis on the "the value of love." 
"We’ve always had a very close relationship despite the 12-year age difference. I was the youngest and Jorge always pampered and protected me." 
"Every time I had a problem, I’d go running to him, and he was always there." Even though his ministry and duties as Jesuit provincial and then as archbishop of Buenos Aires kept her brother busy and often prevented him from visiting, the two siblings always spoke by phone every week, she said. 
She named her first-born son Jorge, "in honor of my special brother," who also was moved to be asked to be the child’s godfather. 
The pope’s nephew, Jorge, 37, told the paper that his uncle "is someone who is very open, we talk about everything, long talks," he said. 
She said she and her family stayed home in Ituzaingo, near Buenos Aires, to watch the pope’s inaugural Mass on television out of respect for his public request that Argentines give to the poor the money they would have spent on airfare. 
"We are near him in prayer," she said. 
Her house was still busy with phone calls and visitors, and occasional motorists would still drive by, honking their horns, shouting "Viva el papa," Avvenire reported March 19. Maria Elena and her husband painted the gate to the house yellow and white in honor of the election, the paper reported. 
She said she spoke to her brother March 14, the day after he was elected pope. "I wasn’t able to say a thing and he wasn’t either" because they were so overwhelmed with emotion, she said.
I took delight in reading about this special, loving relationship.  According to his sister, Jorge's priesthood wasn't without sacrifice; he missed many family gatherings and meals as he tended to people in the slums.  Yet, their loving devotion for one another and the larger human family speaks volumes.  I don't know that I would have been able to not go to Rome for the Papal inauguration.  But I am impressed by her respect for his wishes and her creative sign of support.  I would have flown a papal flag, but that yellow and white gate is symbolically rich and fitting.  

And if you catch the NCAA women's basketball championship game, you will notice two women with the same surname. That's because Shoni and Jude Schimmel are sisters, which could be a definite advantage.  As reported in the Washington Post, "When Louisville’s Shoni Schimmel whipped a no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass to younger sister Jude for a fast-break layup in the women’s Final Four, former WNBA player Ryneldi Becenti was on a Native American reservation watching on TV — and grinning at the sight of a free-wheeling style of basketball she knows quite well."

In typical sibling banter, the eldest of the two--Shoni said “I remember her sitting there saying she didn’t want to go to the same school. But it was a blessing when she did.”  And the best part is their parents and six other siblings are probably the most excited that they did.  Why?  It was because of their team's upset that their parents finally got married.

Ceci Moses, their mother said, ‘If these guys beat Baylor, then I’ll marry you.’”
That night, the sisters combined to go 7 of 10 from 3-point range to help Louisville pull off an 82-81 victory that will be remembered as one of the biggest upsets of the 2013 tournament.
The next day, Rick and Cici were married in Oklahoma City. The day after that, Louisville pulled off another upset against Tennessee last Tuesday to advance to the Final Four in New Orleans.
“My parents have been together for 28 years but they’ve never had the time to actually tie the knot,” Shoni Schimmel explained. “they had a ton of kids, eight kids, and they just never really had the time to go out and do it because they’re out coaching us or teaching us how to play basketball and stuff. They never had the time.”
It is amazing what siblings can achieve--from uniting their parents to uniting the ends of the earth.  A world with siblings isn't one we should take for granted; it's not a given in some places.  And for those without brothers or sister, I know some of the siblings of my closest friends have had just as much as an impact on my life as my own family members.  They color our world--sometimes in yellow and white and other times in under the shared colors of our team.  They have taught me how to fight and reconcile, laugh and let go, to love and to be loved.  We can always "be near them in prayer."

Photo Credits

Sisters
Bergoglio Family
Maria Elena and Son Jorge Bergoglio

Sisters in Cardinal Red

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