Priest's special World Cup stamp collection becomes a hot topic

As the hype over the Cricket World Cup reaches a crescendo, a hitherto unknown priest is basking in the limelight.

Father Tom John has become famous for his passion for the game and his collection of 180 stamps relating to the quadrennial event.

Not many Indians are aware that a remote African nation ‑ Guinea-Bissau – had this year released a stamp on cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar.

Despite being based in Gumla, 190km from the Jharkhand capital Ranchi, the priest managed to get one.

“I don’t know its real value but I paid 500 rupees (about US$11),” he said.

Now the center of media attention, the parish priest of Malam Noatoli in Gumla diocese has a collection of 400 stamps on cricket and it is still growing.

“I don’t think I have missed out on any cricket stamp released by any country. I have all the stamps issued around the world since the inception of the cup in 1975.”

Impressed by his stamp collection, a leading daily, Indian Express offered him a ticket for the 1996 World Cup match between India and Pakistan in Bangalore when he was studying Theology.

However, the Franciscan priest regrets that India has not issued a stamp on any cricketer while foreign countries are releasing stamps on “our cricket heroes and making money”.

He says sporting heroes should be honored when they are alive and not when they have left the world.

Father John says besides Guinea-Bissau, the island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the West Indies has released stamps on legends Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.

He said, “I am a fan of Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He is from Ranchi and I wish and pray for him that India wins the World Cup.”

The priest, who plays cricket and teaches it to children in the parish, said: ”I am looking for an opportunity to meet Dhoni and get his autograph.”

Father Tom said he is staying in an underdeveloped area in the state where there is no electricity and will have to rely on solar-powered batteries to watch the final on television.

The cricket stamps actually form part of a much broader stamp collection. Pursuing his hobby for the last 28 years, he treasures 50,000 stamps on 186 subjects, including 1,500 stamps on Christmas.

Father Tom said as a child he used to collect colorful matchboxes. Later he turned his attention to stamps which he collects according to themes.

Stamp collecting is not easy, he says: “It consumes a lot of money, energy, courage and time.”

He said it was easier to afford pursuing the hobby when he was a businessman before answering God’s call.

“I have already invested almost half a million rupees, but my collection is worth a hundred times more to me than what I invested. It’s for posterity.”

Today the value of stamps is increasing significantly as the art of letter writing is declining in the face of competition from the Internet and e-mails.

“There is history behind each and every stamp, and each one is worth collecting,” he said.