From The New York Times:

In the chapel of a small hillside sanctuary in Porretta Terme — a handsome town in central Italy known for the healing powers of its thermal waters — a single basketball-shaped window, its panes curved like seams, poured light on walls filled with basketball jerseys.

On a table, a notebook contained pages of devotionals, including gratitude for a healed meniscus and prayers to “win the championship in the next few years.” The back wall bore a bas-relief of a dying basketball player, palming a ball in his left hand as the Virgin Mary watched his earthly clock run down.

“I offer you the joy of every bucket,” Don Filippo Maestrello, a center-sized local priest, prayed to the Madonna of the Bridge in the Chapel of the Basketball Players.

The founder of the local basketball association and the town’s tourism and sport official bowed their heads at his side as he continued, imploring the Madonna to “guide our shot in the right direction” and to “bless and protect my team.”

Residents of Porretta have for centuries venerated the Madonna of the Bridge — named after a 16th-century drawing of the Virgin Mary on a rock near a bridge over the nearby Reno River. Over the years, the rock became a site of devotion, eventually inspiring the building of the sanctuary where Don Maestrello prayed.

Locals credited the Madonna of the Bridge with performing miracles, including saving a 17th-century pilgrim on the bridge by stopping bullets fired by a Florentine assassin.

But more recently they say she has taken her talents, and divine interventions, to the basketball court. After a decades-long campaign by local basketball fanatics, the Italian Bishops Conference in May gave its approval for her to be officially recognized as the patron saint of Italian basketball.

The application now sits with the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, which declined to comment on the patron’s progress.

Guglielmo Bernardi, the former head of the local basketball association who has been a driving force behind the effort, said he understood the Vatican step to be a lay up.

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