2° SEMINAIRE INTERNATIONAL DU VATICAN
the debate and discussion during these past two days, we have been anticipating
this discussion about developing a common strategy at the major sporting events.
Besides having experienced Olympic chaplains in our midst - in attendance at
this seminar are four priests who serve as the Catholic chaplains for the
Austrian, German, italian and Polish Olympic teams - we also have chaplains for
the national soccer teams to the World Cup, as well as other major sporting
events. As there is also the other side of these events, that of the pastoral
care pro- vided by the local Church, we have with us priests and laity who have
been involved in the planning and organization of pastoral care at such local
events as the World Cup of soccer, as well as the representative of the Catholic
Church in London who is part of the organizing committee for the London 2012
Olympics. Yet, before addressing the concrete points of a strategy among
chaplains and the local church at major sporting events, I wish to back up for
one moment in order to place all of these efforts in light of the new
evangelization and in light of this new reality of having a point of reference
in the Holy See for " Church and sport " related activities.
the frontier of the new evangelization In the blue print for this " Church
and sport " section within the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the
Secretary of State spoke of sport as one of the frontier's of the " new
evangelization ". As we may recall, this term " new evangelization
" was used by the John Paul II in reference to the Great Jubilee, seeing
the past 2000 years of Christianity, not only as a point of arrival, but even
more so, a new point of departure '. " The Christian community " -
stated John Paul II - " is journeying again, driven by the love of Christ,
to undertake the new evangelization [ . . . ] It is at the begin- ning of a new
mission ". John Paul II, in Tertio Millenio Adveniente, recalls how the
modern world reflects the situation of St. Paul who spoke before the Areopagus
of Athens, as he writes: " Today there are many 'areopagi', and very
different ones: these are the vast sectors of contemporary civilization and
culture, of politics and economics. The more the West is becoming estranged from
its Christian roots, the more it is becoming missionary territory, taking the
form of many different 'areopagi' ".
this context, the vast world of sport is a great frontier for the new
evangelization, and these major sporting events form the many " areopagi
" of contemporary culture. Although seven years have now passed since the
Great Jubilee and this appeal for the new evangelization, it seems that sport is
still waiting for the arrival of this new missionary impulse. Hopefully, the
establishment of this section for sport in the Vatican can be a part of this new
missionary thrust, as well as a prominent sign of the fact that sport is now a
universal phenomenon, and as such, is an occupation and concern of the Universal
though these major events are and remain per se sporting events, and not "
spiritual events " they still are " major events " of global
relevance that attract the attention of millions, dominating the media
throughout the duration of the event in such a way as to insert themselves,
whether welcomed or not, into the daily life of those people who live in those
cities where these events take place.
can recall one of the big sports events in the past years. Being in italy,
perhaps the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin comes to mind.
these Winter Games are generally not as big as the summer Olympics, there were
80 countries represented, with 2,508 competing athletes (960 women and 1,548 men)
in 84 events. Yet, there were more journalists than athletes (2,688 journalists,
agencies and photographers) and 6,720 radio and TV personnel. Nearly three
persons from the media for every athlete! But what really impressed me, was
seeing and speaking with the vast array of volunteers. There were 18,000
volunteers who gave up more than two weeks of their time and at their own
personal travel expenses to offer their help, at times standing around in the
bitter cold just in case someone was lost or needed directions.
I asked one man why he decided to volunteer. he simply said " I like to
help people ".
this is only a flicker of the magnitude of the summer Olympics in 2008 in
Beijing. where the organizing committee is seeking the help of some 80,000
volunteers! Think of how the Catholic Church could benefit from the presence of
80,000 " volunteer missionaries " to evangelize the world of sport
whether it be at a major event or year round! Shifting to another sport, we can
recall the World Cup of Soccer in 2006 in Germany. Once again, a great human
effort went into the orga- nization of this month long, multi-city event. To
give you an idea of the volume of participants, each match averaged 52,401
people for an over- all estimated total of 3,353,655 people! But this is not
all, the 2006 World Cup stands as the most watched event in television history
with an estimated 26.29 billion viewers over the course of the tournament, and
the final game attracted an estimated audience of
715,1 million people. " Truly a major global event! In order to
handle the influx of millions of visitors, state governments, local governments,
and even local churches came into play, offering their help and hospitality.
these are not simply social events., but a huge financial enterprise that
engages big business and causes profits to churn, merchandise to be sold, and
consumers to respond to these artificially created " demands " of an
enormous leisure culture. In a technical review of the World Cup 2006, FIFA and
Germany's World Cup organizing committee reported a revenue surplus of euros 135
million for the event.
these figures are correct, the German organizing committee would receive euros
94 million and the other euros
41 million would go to FIFA. Yet, unfortunately, these major events are
not just about soccer. It was also reported that an estimated 15,000 young women
were " imported " into the country as part of a " legal "
ring of prostitution which catered to the spectators of these events.
should we consider these major events as simply negative experiences - occasions
for sin, debauchery, or at best total distractions from real life? Or, along the
lines of St. Paul, might we consider them as " areopagi ", real
opportunities to bring people into contact with Christ and the Gospel message of
salvation? St. Paul tried to become all things to all people, in order to save
some of them (Cf. 1 Cor 9:22- 25). And this " some " includes those
within the world of sport. In fact, the Apostle to the Gentiles found in sport,
if not a means, at least a symbol and an occasion to describe the realities of
the spiritual life in a language accessible to the people of his time and place.
the Jubilee of Sport, John Paul II expressed his desire that this event '' be an
occasion for everyone, dear leaders, managers, sport enthusiasts and athletes,
to find new creative and motivating zeal through sports that know how, in a
constructive spirit, to reconcile the complex demands made by the current
cultural and social changes with the unchangeable requirements of the human
being ". We too, need to find this new creative and motivating zeal in
order to also correspond to the intricate demands placed upon us by our culture
if the Catholic Church could tap into just a fraction of all of this energy, of
this volunteer power, or of this media hype? As St. Paul reminds us, they do all
of this merely to receive a perishable wreath. But we are working for an
imperishable one! ( 1 Cor 9:25 ). Christ's words in the Gospel of Luke also come
to mind as he laments that the " sons of darkness are more astute than the
sons of light! " ( Lk 16:8).
the challenge is clear and the door of opportunity lies wide open before us. The
first Vatican seminar on sport, held in 2005, considered the world of sport
today as " a field of Christian mission ". Now we take a step forward
and consider in greater detail, what each of us can do, especially we who are
priest chaplains. Although it should be noted that this field is not exclusively
the work of clergy, as sport offers many opportunities for all. In fact, it is
one of the ripest fields for lay involvement and apostolic action. Let us now
consider some of the ways we can work together in responding to this challenge.
of reference within the Church With regards to major sporting events such as the
Olympics, it is important to note that the Church normally operates on the
principle of subsidiary collaboration. The local church, the diocese or bishop's
conference of the country where the sporting event or events are taking place,
normally take upon themselves the task of providing the pastoral care for all of
those involved in these extraordinary events. This does not discourage the help
that can come from outside support, international collaboration, and the
proposal of other initiatives, but it should be clear that the local ordinary is
ultimately in charge of the " pastoral care " in conjunction with the
event and remains the point of coordination at the local level.
in the case of these major sporting events, I believe we can say that we are at
a new beginning. This new " Church and sport " section can serve - and
is already functioning - as a point of reference and as a liaison between the
Church at the local
level and around the world. Through the previous seminar that we held in
2005. we have been able to identify and unite from around the world the "
Church and sport " representatives at the national level within the
Bishop's conferences. This office has also been instrumental in connecting
various Catholic International sports associations with each other. Often, the
same priest who represents the " Church and sport " section within the
national bishops' conference also serves as the Olympic chaplain of his country
present seminar has also been able to serve as a means of introducing Olympic
chaplains to each other. In fact, the Catholic Olympic chaplains of two
different countries discovered that they have been chaplains at three editions
of the Olympics, but have never met until this seminar! Whereas, before these
chaplains were on their own and had no one with whom they could discuss their
challenges, they now have been able to exchange ideas and experiences.
respecting the leadership role of the local Church which hosts these major
events, the objective today is to take a closer look - together with all of you
present, - at some opportunities, initiatives, or suggestions that could help to
not only maximize your work as chap- lain, but also to open the door to other
initiatives which perhaps go well beyond the scope of the chaplain but stem from
their experience at these major sporting events through the years.
spite of the barrier of language, the great strength and beauty of the Catholic
Church is universality.
How can we take better advantage of this universal synergy to enhance the
presence and pastoral care of both the athletes and the faithful at these major
events? How can the " novum " of this office for the pastoral care of
sport in the Holy See help you in your particular work as chaplains and
directors of Catholic sport associations? A central point can coordinate efforts
on the inter- national level by facilitating the exchange of information, of
ideas, of possible collaboration among countries. We can help to avoid
reduplicating work, and better maximize the pastoral contribution that the
priest chaplain makes at these events.
trying to consider the pastoral care and evangelization efforts at major
sporting events as a whole, it seems that these encompass three basis sectors:
the pastoral care of the athletes themselves-directly under the care of those
Catholic chaplains who are officially accredited to attend the Olympic Games;
the pastoral care of the spectator and auxiliary personnel who are physically
present at these events; the realm of the mass media - those who follow these
events via the many forms of mass media.
in the pastoral care of athletes The pastoral care of athletes is at the heart
of the theme of this seminar. As one of the panel discussions of this seminar
has been dedicated to provided an array of experiences of sport chaplains at
various levels, including the day-to-day work, I wish to now focus on the
specific pastoral work of a chaplain at the major sporting events. These
chaplains are usually assigned to the pastoral care of a particular group of
athletes, such as a national Olympic team, or the national soccer team or a
championship team. Or, they might be assigned to the care of athletes of a
particular language group. The chaplain's pastoral care consists primarily in
celebrating Mass for the athletes, trainers and staff (at the best possible time
for all ), administering the sacrament of reconcilia- tion, offering counselling
and spiritual direction, and visiting the injured athletes.
the case of the Olympics, the pastoral care of the chaplains within the "
Olympic Village " is subject to the specific norms of the I.O.C. which has
made religious services a part of the Olympics since London 1908. An I.O.C.
accredited chaplains has access to the " Olympic Village " where the
athletes reside and which is not open to the public. There, the chaplain is
permitted to " minister " within the Official I.O.C. designated "
worship spaces " and not outside of these while in the Village. Chaplains
present at this seminar, agree that one of the best worship spaces has been the
" Centre Abraham " at the 1992 Olympic Village in Barcelona. It was a
centrally located and aesthetically attractive worship space designated for use
by all monotheistic religions.
the 2006 winter Olympic Games in Turin, athletes were housed in three different
Olympic Villages. Depending upon their specific discipline, some athletes stayed
in the Olympic Village near the Olympic headquarters in Turin. while other
athletes were housed outside of the city in the skiing villages of Sestriere and
Bardonecchia. Due to the multiple Olympic Villages, chaplains were faced with
the challenge of dividing their presence between the different villages in order
to avail themselves to their athletes who were scattered throughout this vast
in the case of Turin, two small classrooms served as the " official worship
spaces " for the athletes in the particular Olympic Village of Sestriere.
Chaplains from all faiths had to arrange among them- selves a schedule of
worship times, etc. It is said by chaplains that determining the schedule for
Mass times is always a great challenge as each athlete has a different schedule
according to their particular events and they have to share this worship space
with others. Given their past experience, many of the veteran chaplains
calculate what times will work best for them and their athletes, yet it always
remains a challenge.
is also the challenge of having to furnish these empty rooms in a dignified yet
temporary way for each Mass for once the Mass is finished everything has to be
removed to make way for the next group's " worship service ". Again,
in the case of the 2006 Winter Olympics, due to the modest settings of the
worship spaces, some of the Catholic chaplains made use of the Catholic Church
in the village of Sestriere where the local priest was very accommodating. This
parish accommodated not only the Olympic athletes, but also spectators, with
" multi lingual " Masses on Saturday evenings and Sundays during the
in the pastoral care of spectators. It should be noted that the profile of the
visiting spectator is more akin to a tourist than a " pilgrim ". Yet,
often this major events can offer the spectator - tourist an opportunity to come
into contact with cultural attractions of a religious nature. Before the World
Cup of Soccer in Italy in 1990, John Paul II noted: " You have come from
every part or the world to Rome, the ancient home or the Caesars and the ever
living centre or Christianity. The Eternal City offers you its heritage of
classical monuments and Christian values. Try to listen to the noble human and
religious message addressed to you by the many memorials and ruins that are so
filled with history. Do not be distracted guests, unable to hear the thousand
voices speaking of moral greatness and above all Christian heroism. often
expressed by the supreme witness of stardom! "
Those present in Turin for the Winter Olympics may recall the crowds of
people visiting the exhibition of the Holy Shroud, the Cathedral, and the
displays in honour of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. In fact, in Bardonecchia
where Pier Giorgio had skied, there was a display about him and his life in a
small church that was a few hundred meters from the giant half pipe where the
athletes competed! Snowboarders and skiers could not have had a better patron on
that occasion. In fact, one skier had the name Frassati written on the bottom of
are visible sign of the Church's presence at these events, and little ways of
evangelizing the present moment.
In the case of the Olympics in China, the local Catholic Church may not
have as much to offer by way of Christian cultural sites, but it does want to
welcome its visitors. The Bishop's Conference of the Catholic Church in China
has entrusted the overseeing of the pastoral care during the 2008 summer games
to the Beijing Diocese. The bishop of Beijing's assistant for diocesan affairs,
Fr. Peter Zhao, said that his diocese is preparing a comprehensive service plan
for the Olympics and already offers regular masses in English at the Cathedral
in Beijing. On the official web site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, visi- tors
are offered a listing of local worship places that includes several Catholic
churches in Beijing. Some of the common challenges the local organization faces
are: the diversity in languages; consequently, communicating events (mass times):
convenience of location. To accommodate Catholic spectators, perhaps a "
Church Centre " could be established as was the case during the Olympics in
Sydney. This consisted of a information booth in the middle of the City of
Sydney which had a permanent staff of volunteers to help tourists find their
appropriate Church services.
The 3:1 ratio of reporters to athletes - as we have seen in the case of
Turin. graphically depicts the intense and multiform media attention that the
major sporting events receive. Yet, even before the use of inter- net and
television, the Pontiffs of the past century have not allowed some of the major
world sports events to pass by without some form of commentary, whether through
a letter or telegram to the local ordinary, with words of greeting and good will
for the event's success. In fact, these events have provided an occasion for the
Holy Father to briefly communicate to the athletes and participants the Church's
thought with regard to sport in general or the particular significant of these
world events, thus helping us as Christians and men and women of good will, to
evaluate these occasions in the proper perspective, and within the light of the
gospel. A brief analysis of these messages through the years. reveals two
the Olympics, an appeal has been made throughout the last century to reflect on
this universal and peaceful gathering which involves so many nations as a
visible manifestation that we are one human family, capable of living in harmony
and fraternity. Thus, a general appeal has been made so that these international
gatherings might always promote peace and respect of others through friendly and
occasion of the Olympics or a European or World Sports championship, the
Pontiffs have also frequently made appeal to the athletes themselves, aware of
the great relevance they have as they are watched and admired from youth around
the world. " This phenomenon - as John Paul II observed - exposes you
athletes to considerable psycho- logical pressures because people tend to extol
you as heroes, as human models who in spire ideals of life and action,
especially among youth.
this fact places you at the centre of a particular social and ethical problem.
You are observed by many people and expected to be out- standing figures not
only during athletic competitions but also when you are off the sport field. .
". Because of this the Pontiffs have tried to encourage the athletes to
live up these high demands by not only physical training but also by constantly
engaging the spiritual dimensions of their person.
the media hype around these events can help to amplify the Holy Father's voice
with respect to these events. In past years.
occasion of the Olympics and World Cups, some of the " Church and sport
" offices of the Catholic Bishop's Conferences have prepared athletes
prayer books and other spiritual books to accompany athletes and spectators on
these occasions. Some countries may be able to benefit from the work already
done by other countries in this field and we are willing to share with others
these initiatives as they are made know to us.
major events can also be occasions for ecumenical collaboration, as was the case
with the Olympics in Athens where there was a collaborative effort between
Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and the Greek Biblical society'. Also at the
Winter Olympics in Turin, many copies of a seven language Gospel of Mark were
distributed to the athletes and spectators. This was an initiative of The
Conference, the Waldensian Church and the Sacred Orthodox
of italy (Ecumenical Patriarchate) who promoted this edition which was published
and distributed in cooperation with the italian Bible Society and the British
Bible Society. At present, investigation is underway regarding the feasibility
of the publication of the Gospel of Mark in English and Chinese for distribution
at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Government approval is required as there are
restrictions on the publication and distribution of the Bible in China.
are just some of the ways that the Church, at the local, the national and the
international level, can collaborate at these major sporting events. Having the
opportunity for chaplains to make contact in advance and become acquainted with
each other and how the process works is key. It is our hope that this "
Church and sport " section can be of ongoing assistance in this area
especially. With time, we hope to better " equip " sport chaplains for
their mission, by, on one hand, creating an overall awareness and sensitivity of
the importance of this work. and, on the other hand, by providing these
chaplains with practical tips and suggestions from those who have experience in
In some sense, this seminar has been an initial step, and we can even say " historical step ", towards these aims.