efe-epaBy Cristina Cabrejas Vatican City

Although there are not that many women in the Vatican overall, and with a goalkeeper having been signed from neighboring Italy, the Holy See has managed to form its very first women's soccer team.

On an unusually chilly evening in May, the players come out to warm up at a sports centers near the Vatican, where the Clericus Cup, a tournament featuring teams of priests and seminarians, is played.

They laugh when they catch sight of the press, bemused by all the interest in a group of women who gather once a week to train and play a match, Danilo Zennaro, who is in charge of the "Sport in Vaticano" association, told Efe.

Zennaro is aware of the interest women's soccer has garnered in the past few years, and even more so when it comes to a Vatican team. About 4,800 people work for the Holy See, of whom only about 750 are women.

He says the first question he is normally asked when someone finds out about the team is whether or not nuns are allowed to play.

"There are not only nuns in the Vatican," he says, adding that the number of regular women who work in the Vatican has increased in recent years. "Things have changed."

And the change is obvious when you see the women who work for the Vatican's press service, the supermarkets and the various Holy See ministries coming out for a game of soccer under the watch of their coach, Gianfranco Guadagnoli.

Susan Volpini, in charge of the women's team and secretary of the Women's Association in the Vatican City, says the whole thing started "as a game" when a women's soccer match was held in May 2018 as part of an activity held for Vatican employees and their families.

The idea gained momentum and led to the formation of the team.

The women have already played at a tournament organized by Bambino Gesu Hospital, a Vatican children's hospital, and they are scheduled to play several matches "because this is what interest us not the competition," added Volpini.

Around 60 percent of the players work in the Vatican, while the rest of the squad is made up of wives or daughters of Vatican workers. The age range is between 25-40.

A lot of the players are mothers, who bring their children with them to the stands during training.

"Sometimes, it seems like a miracle for them to be able to find a day every week to be here," Volpini added.

Three have played for teams in Italy in the past, while team captain Eugene Tcheugoue comes from Cameroon.

"It's a great idea. I would have never imagined returning to play here in the Vatican," she told Efe on the sidelines before training.

She says her colleagues at the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life did not believe it when she told them about the women's soccer team.

"I think that all of the people (in the Vatican) are happy with this initiative because it is also a simple mode of creating a community out of the working environment," Tcheugoue said.

During training, reinforcements had to be called up from a team of Bambin Gesu, which included nurses and doctors, in order for a match to be played.

Later in the month, the squad is scheduled to play Roma, who finished their maiden Serie A women's season fourth, and they are set to travel to Vienna in June to take on a local team.

"Even if they lose 30-0, it doesn't matter," Zennaro said, adding that the most important thing is to "create links and friendships." EFE

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