L'aumônier sportif et la formation des jeunes par Josef Clemens

As I have been assigned the task of concluding this seminar, I wish to offer all of you - without presuming to make an exhaustive summary - an interpretive key: the remarks that Pope Benedict XVI made regarding the formation of youth which he gave to Catholic educators of the Diocese of Rome on June of 2007. In fact, I must say that I was surprised to find such a close convergence between the ideas expressed during our seminar and those of the Holy Father regarding the challenges to be faced in educating the youth and the solutions prosided therein.

  His Eminence, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, opened our reflection with this fundamental question: Considering the crisis and evident con- predictions that plague sport today, is it still possible to attribute to it an educational role? In response to this question, the talks and interventions revealed the great complexity of the problems that face sport. In particular, we saw how sport's tremendous growth in popularity over the years has often caused it to be " used " as an ambiguous means of promoting political or social ideologies or to fulfil purely economic gains. Furthermore, we saw how this same ambivalence - made ever more poignant within a global and relativistic society that has left its mark on contemporary man - is making it difficult to proceed in a constructive way within this world of sport.

Additionally, we have considered how the world of sport is also a mirror of a secular society that has gone to the extreme, at least in some European countries, of attempting to erase some fundamental signs and elements of its Christian origin. The Holy Father, in the above mentioned address to educators, clearly pointed out how secularism has grown side by side with the crisis in formation of youth at the elementary level.

" Today, in fact, - noted Pope Benedict XVI - every educational task seems more and more arduous and precarious. Consequently, there is talk of a great 'educational emergency', of the increasing difficulty encountered in transmitting the basic values of life and correct behaviour to the new generations, a difficulty that involves both schools and families and, one might say, any other body with educational aims ".

In addition to a crisis that prevails in many families and schools, we must also face the negative messages that are proposed by the mass media, all the more intrusive when it comes to sport since it is inevitable influenced by the media. With regards to this the Pontiff noted that " Today, more than in the past, the education and formation of the per- son are influenced by the messages and general climate spread by the great means of communication and which are inspired by a mindset and culture marked by relativism, consumerism and a false and destructive exaltation, or rather, profanation, of the body and of sexuality ".

In our seminar we have considered that the serious problems that afflict sport are not particular only to the world of an athlete, but are rooted in a crisis of values that involves our entire globalized society. A new concept of life has emerged - described by some such as Zygmunt Bauman as a " liquid " - which finds its source in the rapid progress of information technology, the over emphasis on the " quality of life ", the   rapid spread of multiculturism, and, above all, from an ethical and existential relativism which is the real culprit of the educational crisis. Frequently. this rapid transformation catches educators off-guard and unprepared because they themselves lack a critical eye or even imbibe this same relativism.

This " educational emergency " that also threatens sport in a dramatic way, is, according to Pope Benedict XVI, " an inevitable emergency " as He goes on to observe that " in a society, in a culture, which all too often make relativism its creed - relativism has become a sort of dogma - in such a society the light of truth is missing; indeed, it is considered dangerous and " authoritarian " to speak of truth, and the end result is doubt about the goodness of life ".

As we have seen, the educational crisis also corresponds to a crisis in role models as the youth lack persons to whom they can turn to for reference or for guidance. To fill in this vacancy, the world of sport is quick to offer a multitude of fans its own sport heroes - champions whom the youth seek to imitate for their sporting ability and yet end up emulating them also as role models for their personal lives.

Our reflections have brought us to the conclusion that sports are at a decisive crossroads: Sport must either rediscover its great potential for transmitting values and authentic virtues or it will succumb to a dominating utilitarianism that limits sport to pure physical activity or pure business. As it emerged in our discussion, educational institutions and sport associations are continually threatened by the danger of a reductionism ideology that prevents the person from being considered as a whole, in his or her entirety.

Noting a similar reductionism in education, the Holy Father observed that " education tends to be broadly reduced to the transmit- sion of specific abilities or capacities for doing, while people endeavour to satisfy the desire for happiness of the new generations by showering them with consumer goods and transitory gratification ".

Sport can only escape from this crisis imposed upon it by the " dictatorship of relativism " only if the world of sport learns how to open up to God, the only one who can guarantee the authentic values of life and human relations.

The athletes who have offered us their testimonies highlighted the importance of being able to find in their sport's environments some type of reference to God, especially in the person of a chaplain or by some other means. One athlete, in fact, even lamented the lack of such a figure and the negative consequences suffered due to the absence of priest in his sporting world.

In some countries, such as Germany, the world of sport is traditionally considered as non-confessional. Howerer, out of respect for the personal convictions of the individual, an openness to the transcendent is becoming more and more universally acknowledged as something that is necessary for all, and does not in any way jeopardize a healthy secularism.

The Holy Father also pointed this out during an encounter with a group of italian clergy. " There is light and hope - said the Holy Father - only if God appears. Our life has a meaning which we must not pro- duce ourselves but which precedes us and guides us. In this sense, therefore, I would say that together. we should take the obvious routes which today even the lay conscience can easily discern. We should therefore seek to guide people to the deepest voices, to the true voice of the conscience ".

The rapid spread of ambiguous aims that are centred on only the material " success " of an individual or an institution's which are at times quite at odds with the common good and even harmful for the youth involved, makes it all the more urgent the presence of an educator who is authentic and courageous, well prepared, and determined to find a balance between these extremes. And this is precisely the field of the sport chaplain.

The sport chaplain finds himself on the front line as a unique point of reference for the youth, but not only for them. The figure of the priest, then, manifests its particular significance in opposing the onslaught of relativism and atheism.

As we have heard in the testimonies of the players, the sport chap- lain manifests a closeness on the part of the Church that can be of sustenance for those suffering the loneliness or disorientation that can especially arise in disaggregated families and even dispose one to confrontational or alienist behaviour.

With respect to this. Pope Benedict XV recalled that " education and especially Christian education . . . has need of that closeness which is proper to love. Especially today, when isolation and loneliness are a widespread condition to which noise and group conformity is no real remedy, personal guidance becomes essential, giving those who are growing up the assurance that they are loved, understood and listened to ".

As was noted more than once during our seminar - taking into account the need to form the very parents of these children is all the more urgent as they are either absent or incapable of transmitting to their children basic values. Yet, the role of the chaplain remains irreplaceable even when the children come from families that are solid and intact, for as the Holy Father also noted, " as children gradually grow up, their inner desire for personal autonomy naturally increases. Especially in adolescence, this can easily lead to them taking a critical distance from their family.   Here, the closeness which can be guaranteed by the priest, Religious, catechist or other educators capable of making the friendly face of the Church and love of Christ concrete for the young arson. becomes particularly important ".

  From the beginning of this seminar and throughout, the essential credentials of a true Christian educator have been called to mind, and these hold true for the essential characteristics that the sport chaplain must possess. First of all, he must be concerned for the good of sport, be committed to it, and go beyond seeking temporary solutions to its maladies, but have the courage and bravado to propose more lasting solutions. 

It was seen that a chaplain must live his mission in a gratuitous way, not expecting immediate results for his work, but remaining true to what he proposes while knowing how to maintain a positive rapport with these young athletes. To recap some of the suggestions made during the seminar, it was noted that the chaplain should be present not only at the big competitive events, but also in the other moments of an athlete's life; he should manifest himself as a friend, but also as an authoritative voice, as one who is also capable of educating the coaches and trainers and also the parents. It is asked that the chaplain welcome, orientate, and know how to " train " this passion for sport in the youth, accompanying them in the difficulties and promoting a sense of joyful hope. He should know how to live up to the demands of being on this frontier by orientating all to those values that transcend the result- driven world of sport, knowing how to interpret and enlighten these deeper aspirations that surface in these athletes, regardless of their reli-gious perspective. Here too, it was mentioned the need to write or prepare materials that can help the athletes to reflect on the deeper meaning of their sporting endeavours.

Perhaps the task and responsibility that is assigned to the sports chaplain can seem like too much, far exceeding their human capacities.

Yet, to help us to better understand what is really the heart of the matter, we have the Holy Father's words that outline a type of identikit of the educator when viewed in the light of Christ: " The task of education passes through freedom but also requires authority. . . A witness of Christ does not merely transmit information but is personally involved with the truth Christ proposes and, through the coherency of his own life, becomes a dependable reference point. However, he does not refer to himself, but to Someone who is infinitely greater than he is, in whom he has trusted and whose trustworthy goodness he has experienced ".

More than once, was it expressed during this seminar the desire that the Church make its pastoral action within the world of sport more active at all levels. As " Mater et Magister " of all Christians, and of humanity, the Church recognizes that sport can play a role in transmitting fundamental values. As it was fittingly recalled - her mission encompasses all spheres of human life, including that of sport. Furthermore, the Holy Father reminded parents and educators that the Church, according to Vatican II, cannot remain extraneous from these human spheres. He urged us with these words: " we certainly cannot fail to take interest in the overall orientation of the society to which we belong, in the trends that motivate it and in the positive or negative influence that it exercises on the formation of the new generations. The very presence of the community of believers, its educational and cultural commitment.. . are in fact an invaluable service to the common good and especially to the children and youth who are being trained and prepared for life ".   Many of the participants of this seminar expressed their hope that the presence of the Church within the field of sport might shed light on the profound motivations, the anthropological premises that cause so many people from so many cultural backgrounds to practice this activity. As we have recalled, the authentic human foundation, which is consequently also Christian. of this much shared interest is none other than an expression of the desire for happiness and fulfilment that is enkindled within the human heart. In fact, it is this very thirst for the Absolute that constitutes the guarantee and underlying premise of an educational itinerary that is capable of purifying and elevating sport so as to bring out its inherent values. In order for sport to be truly " formative ", it must reawaken the authentic ideals of its original inspiration.

These are values that are compatible with the values inherent to the practice of Christianity: the exercise of the human virtues, loyalty and self sacrifice, a sense of responsibility, dedication and asceticism. This is all a matter of, as expressed in the words of the Holy Father, " obeying the voice of being ".

[ In this perspective, the need has also been expressed for having a systematic and theoretical method for pastoral ministry to sport that can point out its theological, anthropological, ethical, educational, and spiritual aspects ].

We have seen that the pastoral care to the world of sport is such a broad ranging and important task that cannot be sustained solely by the work of chaplains. What is needed, is an entire network of people who are engaged in the formation of youth through sports, particularly Catholic organizations. In this regards, it is desirable that all of the national bishop's conferences establish an ad hoc liaison to favor the coordination among all Formational institutions on the national level, just as the " Church and sport " Section within the Pontifical Council for the Laity is at the level of the universal church. However, in order to efficaciously penetrate the world of sport this collaboration should be as far reaching as possible and should also extend to the ecumenical level. Along these same lines, Pope Benedict stressed that, with regards to the education of youth, the entire Christian community, with all its many branches and components, " must express and manifest. . . our

willingness and readiness to work together to 'build a network', to achieve with an open and sincere mind every useful form of synergy ... " Lastly, many have expressed during these days their hope that the Holy See might provide a type of vademecum that could provide orientation for the pastoral ministry of sport, serving both to channel the efforts of all those already engaged in service to the world of catholic youth sports, and to solicit a greater interest in this field on the part of pastors. Additionally, many chaplains have expressed their need of booklets or other materials grounded in scripture and a spiritual vision of sport that can assist hem in the evangelization efforts in this field.

As we will continue to analyze and evaluate the many suggestions and initiatives that have surfaced during these days of reflection, I wish to now conclude my remarks by thanking all of the participants – the experts, athletes, coaches and trainers, and all those who work in the pastoral field of sport, but especially, the sport chaplains. We have seen that this work is not at all easy, nor often appropriately appreciated, and nearly always stretches you beyond your other pastoral obligations.

Despite these difficulties, we believe that the Lord will not allow his help and consolation to be lacking, as a sign of that closeness that he has wanted to establish with humanity as manifest in the incarnation of his Son and his presence in the Church.