By Mar Muñoz-Visoso

Eight years ago my husband complained that we needed a new television set. The old 19-inch screen I brought along a few years earlier mysteriously started to have problems just as the Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup was unfolding. Drama turned into comedy when he also started wearing his reading glasses, which he very seldom uses, because he “couldn’t read” the scores.

Needless to say, a couple of days later we went to the store and came back with a silver colored 32″ – still the old fat monitor since flat-screens were then out of reach for most mortals. For the following three weeks there was nothing else to be seen on TV. Well, he is at it again. World Cup fever is back – though this time the existing screen will have to do!

There is something special about soccer/football. It is interesting how a mostly non-practicing soccer fan who follows scores and watches a game every now and then can turn into such a fanatic every four years.

And he is not alone. In the spirit of filial love and shared allegiances, I just got wind that last week he mailed his “playera tricolor” (the Mexican’s team jersey) to his mom – so she can properly root for Mexico – after she complained that “you got one to your dad but you never gave me one.” An otherwise subdued and devoted family woman, she is now geared up for the “cheers and tears” of the World Cup, so excited one can hardly recognize her!

Meanwhile my husband hopes to get a new edition of “la roja” (Spain’s red shirt), while we are in “la madre patria” (“the motherland”) this summer during most of the Cup. The children, of course, must root for the U.S. team, he has admonished them; while mom (yours truly), practical as she is, will bestow allegiances as events develop and matches emerge. A long time ago I learned it is almost impossible to escape World Cup fever on either side of the Atlantic, so you better learn to enjoy it your way.

Time magazine probably has it right when its June 14 cover calls soccer “the global game.” It truly is so. Known as “football” anywhere else in the world, its simple rules and accessibility make it easy to play anywhere by almost anyone.

During the World Cup, national tensions ease, national pride emerges unabashed and, as teams get eliminated, allegiances get shifted, sometimes to the next best team in your continent, sometimes to your favorite player’s team. People in Japan, Cameroon or Mexico, and more and more in the U.S., know exactly who David Villa, Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Samuel Eto’o are.

Even those who hate football note that there is no boring game during the World Cup. The show goes on as much in the bleachers and outside the stadium as it does on the field. It is a great opportunity to showcase sportsmanship and technical ability and, for the fans, to have fun with people from all over the world. It is also a great stage to make a statement. FIFA, the international agency regulating soccer, will do so with this Cup’s humanitarian theme: “One goal, education for all.”

There are other examples. For instance, there is no shortage of players who make the sign of the cross as they enter the field, praying for a good game and hopefully no serious injuries. Some also point to heaven when they score to dedicate it to God or cross themselves in thanksgiving for the favor received. For some it is a calculated move. Others are simply grateful and like to show it in public. Whichever the case, it is always a powerful testimony that reminds us we too are called to be grateful and not shy about our faith.

Speaking of which, I know a few pastors, big soccer fans themselves, who will be praying that during World Cup fever people don’t give up attending Mass on Sunday. “Primero la obligación y luego la devoción” (obligation first, then devotion) an old Spanish adage says. Or does it work in reverse in this case?

At any rate, all the best wishes for the first World Cup played in the African continent. May South Africa and all of Africa emerge from it as the continent of hope many say it is. Arriba Sudáfrica! And let the best team win.

Mar Muñoz-Visoso is assistant director of Media Relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.