Friday, December 7, 2012

Pestaño: Chess and religion

Thursday, December 6, 2012

MOST of the news last month was about the canonization of Visayan Pedro Calungsod and the thanksgiving mass at the SRP where more than a million people attended.
Present were some Cardinals from Rome and all the Bishops in the Philippines, two of whom were my classmates in Christ the King Mission Seminary ( an outstanding class!).
There are an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 saints in the Catholic church, so it’s no big deal. Its significance lies in the fact that he was a Cebuano from Ginatilan and he was only the second Pinoy after San Lorenzo Ruiz.
Why is there so much fascination about religion?
I have an interesting theory on why this is so. Fishes travel in schools and various birds migrate to the same places because it is genetic. So are the bees with their honeycomb.
It is the same with humans, Man’s belief in a Supreme Being and the afterlife is genetic, embedded when we evolved. To do otherwise is unnatural. That is why all kinds of religion are popular. I should know. I was in the seminary before and I joined the Cursillo movement in the late 60s and was a member of the “Born again” phenomenon in the 80s.
Now back to chess. I did a research if San Pedro Calungsod was a chess player. There is no clear picture. The closest I got was that by the time he was born, chess was already played in Cebu.
Chess and religion did not always get along. At one time or another, chess was forbidden by Roman Catholics, Jews, the Puritans, and the Muslims because of the graven images . During the 10th to 12th century you could be excommunicated for
playing chess.
Most recently the Taliban banned it.
There were exceptions though-St. Francis Xavier saved a soldier’s soul by teaching him chess and St, Francis de Sales encouraged it as long as it is played in moderation.
St Thomas Becket played constantly with another avid player King Henry II.
St Charles Borromeo was the cardinal- archbishop of Milan from 1564 to 1584. He played chess almost every day.
Sir Thomas More (died 6 July 1535) was an English lawyer and statesman. He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935 . He said chess would be played in Utopia.
But the most outstanding of them all is a woman--St. Teresa of Avila ((March 28, 1515 – October 4, 1582), one of the leaders of the Counter Reformation. She was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and is considered to be a founder of the Discalced Carmelites.
In 1970 she was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI. Her enthusiasm of the game led to her being considered to be the patron saint of chess players
Popes who played chess included Pope Leo XIII, Pope Gregory VI, Pope Innocent III, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Leo X.
He was not a saint or a pope but the strongest player of them all was Ruy Lopez, a Spanish priest. The most popular opening in chess is named after him. He was such an excellent player that Philip II (the Philippines is named after him) gave him a pension of 2,000 gold crowns a year which makes him more prosperous than most modern grandmasters.
A one-time Catholic priest is William Lombardy ,a grandmaster. He became a GM when he scored the only 11-0 perfect score in the World Junior Championship in 1957. In the early 1980s, Lombardy left the priesthood and subsequently married. He is now retired and lives in New York City, where he is writing and teaches chess at his home and by appointment elsewhere.
Not all Christian chess players are Catholic. Martin Luther wrote that his recurring dream was owning an ornate gold and silver chess set. Another one is Billy Graham, who plays chess when not saving souls.

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