La collaboration entre les aumôniers sportifs : une stratégie commune par Kevin Lixey

In 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.

On 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' ".

In 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 Church.

Even 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.


We 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.

Although 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.

When I asked one man why he decided to volunteer. he simply said " I like to help people ".

Yet, 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.

Obviously, 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.

If 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.

So, 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.

During 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 and society.

What 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).

So, 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.

Point 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.

Nonetheless, 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 's team.

This 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.

While 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.

In 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.

  When 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.

Collaboration 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.

In 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.

At 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 geographical area.

Also 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.

There 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 Olympics.

Collaboration 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 her skis.

These 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.

Mass media opportunities   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 recurring themes.

Regarding 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 fair competition.

In 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.

And 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.

Naturally, the media hype around these events can help to amplify the Holy Father's voice with respect to these events. In past years.

with 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.

These 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 italian Catholic

Bishop's Conference, the Waldensian Church and the Sacred Orthodox

Archdiocese 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.


These 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 this field.

In some sense, this seminar has been an initial step, and we can even say " historical step ", towards these aims.