Father Neiser Cardenas, parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish, Trenton, and organizer of the Copa San José, shows his defensive skills against an opponent.
Father Neiser Cardenas, parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish, Trenton, and organizer of the Copa San José, shows his defensive skills against an opponent.
Move over FIFA, some heathy competition is moving into the Diocese of Trenton. St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, is hosting the first annual St. Joseph Cup, Copa San José, bringing together parish communities from across the Diocese.

An invitation went out to the parishes designated as Centers for Hispanic Ministry from Father Neiser Cardenas, parochial vicar in St. Joseph Parish and principal organizer for the three-tiered soccer event. First and second place trophies will be awarded in each category: youth, women and men, with teams representing the host parish as well as St. Joseph Parish, Trenton; St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton; St. Barnabas, Bayville, and St. Mary Parish, Barnegat.

PHOTO GALLERY: Parishes participate in soccer tournaments

“What’s most important is that we build harmony and joy through this activity, so that we will all have won in the end,” Father Cardenas shared.

Preliminary matches began at 3 p.m. on Aug. 29 on the grounds of the Toms River parish where the tournament opened “FIFA-style” after an opening prayer and blessing. Teams processed in amid much fanfare, including some pyrotechnics, and the brackets were shared for competition.

Named in honor of Jesus’ foster father, the St. Joseph Cup was an exercise in building community making use of soccer’s popularity, especially among the Hispanic communities.

“St. Joseph is the protector of the family, of our Lord Jesus Christ” explained Irene Portillo of St. Joseph Parish, Trenton. She continued that it was most fitting to name the tournament after him as well as having teams from two parishes named in his honor participate.

“Our principal goal is to promote unity among Catholics and to create a healthy recreational space for families. We are using soccer as an evangelization tool,” Father Cardenas shared, “that can help connect people, especially our youth, to the Eucharist.”  He explained that parish teams were blessed and sent forth from their respective parishes at the end of Mass as they prepared to make their way to the tournament.

Teams advancing through the preliminary rounds on August 29 will compete in the finals on Sept. 5 beginning at 3 p.m.

“People are in dialogue, meeting one another, sharing,” expressed Freddy Cardenas Barros of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River. “That’s what’s so beautiful about this, the sharing and dialogue, the laughter and that everyone is enjoying being together.”

Reflecting on how soccer and one’s faith journey can connect, Marianne Ordoñez of Trenton’s St. Joseph Parish said, “I think it really demonstrates teamwork and how with faith, you need people to help you … You need people to guide you and I think that’s what [this tournament] has done.”

For Jesús Trigueros Coronado, also of St. Joseph Parish in Trenton, the tournament was a perfect way to engage the youth.

“I feel that one of the ways to bring youth to Christ, to the Church, is to do things with them… bring them together, and sports, soccer, is perfect.”

Who will win and who would Jesus be pulling for in this St. Joseph Cup?

“I think Jesus just wants us to enjoy ourselves, to be happy. Whoever wins, he will be happy as long as we are,” shared Portillo.

Amanda Kleinmann of St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills, agreed saying that she thinks Jesus “is rooting for community.

“He is rooting for just us being together as a family again, and whoever wins is… well, both teams are winners in his eyes… honestly… to be coming out and sharing this beautiful time together.”

That certainly sounds like a goooooooool for all.

Video interviews by Monitor photographer Mike Ehrmann contributed to this story.