2░ SEMINAIRE INTERNATIONAL DU VATICAN
June of 2006, I was able to accompany the Mexican National soccer team to the
World Cup as their chaplain. Although I had occasionally celebrated mass for
some professional teams in Mexico, this was a totally new experience for me.
This opportunity to spiritually assist these players along with their families
and the many Mexicans who were there with the team in its host city of G÷ttingen
was very interesting and gratifying for me as a priest.
is the benefit of having a chaplain at the World Cup? What does he do? Certainly
he does not score goals ! Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to
repeat the words of the president of the Mexican Soccer Federation, who said the
following at the end of the mass of Thanksgiving: " Father, I would like to
thank you for being with us because your presence as a priest has made our days
together as a team both more human and more Christian ". I think this is
precisely what the priest brings to these events as his presence within the
world of sport - even professional sports - can make it a more human and
Christian activity. What does a priest actually do at the World Cup? In my case,
I was able to celebrate Mass in Spanish each day for the players and their
families, as well as for the directive and technical staff and the Mexican fans
who were staying in the same hotel and wanted to attend Mass. In fact, it got to
the point where I was celebrating two masses a day as those who couldn't attend
mass in the morning due to their commitments would come in the evening. These
people did not want to miss this opportunity to encounter Christ daily in the
Eucharist. In addition to celebrating Mass and hearing confessions, I attended
people in spiritual counselling.
it should be noted that it was not so at the beginning.
first day after our arrival. I posted a schedule for mass and confessions (as we
were in Germany everything was to be well ordered). yet, only a few people from
the team showed up. It was then that I realized that the players were not going
to come on their own and that I must go out in search of them. So I dedicated a
lot of time under the hot sun attending the team's practices in order to get to
know the players. I often had to wait for the right moment to present myself and
strike up a conversation with them. Yet. as a result, Mass attendance steadily
increased. I think this was in part due to the fact that the players came to
know the priest not in the sacristy, but rather, there on the sidelines in their
world of soccer.
professional coach Arturo Salah mentioned: " The priest needs to win the
respect of the players ". I think the way to gain their respect is through
service: by being a good shepherd who is always attentive to their needs and
always available to help them. The players need to know that we are there to
help them spiritually. And this applies to all those who make up the team, from
the president to the players as well as the technical staff on down to its last
member. Because of this, by the end of the World Cup, I had a long line of
people including the team's cooks, technicians, and water boys, who wanted
either go to confession or ask me for a blessing before their flight home the
next day. All of these people were made to feel a part of the team and sought
out the team's chaplain as well.
also came to realize how difficult it is for the players to make time for their
spiritual life during these intense moments. I noted how some players who were
attending daily mass had to sacrifice some of their time for breakfast or had to
rise earlier than the rest. Because of this, these same players became the
spiritual leaders of the team and encouraged others to attend mass by their
presence among the Mexican team seemed quite providential right from the start
in order to help the team through a tragic moment.
after our arrival in Germany, I was awakened in the middle of the night and I
was asked to be the one to tell our goal keeper that his father had suddenly
died. When I arrived to his room I found several players already gathered
outside the goalie's room in a sign of solidarity in this moment of suffering of
their fellow team mate. After speaking with him, I invited all those present to
pray for the repose of the soul of his father and for him and his family. All of
us knelt down in prayer before an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe (an image of
Our Lady was never lacking! ) and with great fervour we prayed some " Hail
Mary's " for the these intentions. This brought the team together in a
unique way and also marked the general tone for the rest of the World Cup in
which the team lived in a spirit of unity, charity, and faith.
the sport chaplain however, the critical moments are not only those of tragedy.
For the athletes, the moment of the game ...
the moment of competition, is also very important because it is there
that their entire career is on the line. It is the moment when their life as a
professional hangs by a thread as all of their years of training and effort are
put to the test. It is an important moment when the priest can and should be
present to the players in a special way.
hours before our decisive game with Argentina. we had the celebration of the
Eucharist, promoted by the team's spiritual leaders.
mass was attended by all. As we were all very nervous. I told them: " Look,
all of us, myself included, are extremely anxious about this game. But only one
thing really matters - that we simply give the very best we can. If we give our
best, we have given everything. No one can ask for more than this..." At
the end of the mass. all the players spontaneously knelt down before an image of
the Blessed Mother to place all their efforts in her hands. Although we did not
win that game, many said it was one of the most intense, most battled games of
the Word Cup. It was hard to swallow this defeat, but we were left with the
satisfaction of having given our very best. The following day, we celebrated the
Sunday Mass in thanksgiving for the many graces we received during these
emotional and unforgettable weeds that were lived with much joy, charity and
this seminar. someone pointed out that the chaplain needs to share in the human
part of the athlete's lives in order to allow them the opportunity to approach
us regarding the spiritual. This was my experience as well. I noticed how
players would eventually have the courage to approach me to seek my advice or
help regarding spiritual matters. But also, I noticed how difficult it is for
some of them to open up. I noticed some players who seemed to want to speak with
me but were hesitating to do so for some reason. Two of them waited until the
last day to tell me: " Look Father, we would like to talk to you about
something … we need to have our marriages blessed ". One player had been
civilly married for five years and the other for four. They were not happy
watching their fellow players receive Christ in the Eucharist while they
remained in the back with their arms crossed; they wanted to receive Christ in
the Eucharist. I am happy to say that one was married in the Church soon after
the World Cup and the other is taking marriage preparation classes in order to
do the same. There was also the case of a Mexican player who had not been able
to arrange for his one year old to be baptized as he was playing in Germany. I
was able to help him find a Spanish speaking priest to help him with this. If
they are given the opportunity, sooner or later these players will approach you
in order to seek help in resolving their spiritual needs.
now, a year after the frenetic activity of the World Cup, I have been able to
stay in touch with many of the players of the Mexican team. It seems that God
was able to plant in all of their hearts a desire to grow in their Christian
vocation. Now they are now seeking other priests to help them to cultivate this.
beautiful experience at the World Cup has opened my eyes to the importance of
the pastoral ministry to sport in the Church.
in many countries this pastoral ministry to sport is new, it seems that God is
anxiously awaiting that priests learn how to transmit Christ to these athletes
as they are leaders of society and have such a great impact in the lives of
children and youth. It is important that we always and everywhere bear witness
to who we are as priests. and this includes the world of sport, which has a
particular need for evangelization. At the same time. the world of sport has
great resources to tap into - namely. the noble hearts of those athletes who
aspire to lofty goals.
who possess great ideals, who know how to fight and to win, and, above all, how to conquer themselves. So I would like to conclude by encouraging priests, especially those who work with youth. to be more present as a priest within the world of sport.