2° SEMINAIRE INTERNATIONAL DU VATICAN
Buddhist story tells of a man who sped along a country road on his horse. An old
farmer, who was working his field, called to him: " Hey, horseman, where
are you going? ". The rider, who had lost control of his horse, turned back
and shouted: " Don't ask me, ask my horse! " This scene vividly
illustrates how many aspects of life have slipped out of our immediate control -
including sports. The recent discovery of doping in cycling is perhaps only the
tip of the iceberg. Is performance sport out of control? Are those aspects of
sport, which are admired by the Church, such as fairness, justice and
responsibility, no longer relevant? Is the chaplain speeding through the world
of Sport in the wrong direction? Or can the Church participate in regaining con-
trot of sport? I propose the later as I am fortunate to see many promising signs.
the German Olympic Sports Association's Coaches Academy,
with the Catholic Academy in the Diocese of Essen, has initiated an ongoing
ethical cooperation. Participating coaches and trainers are obligated to attend
regular discussions about sports values.
in today's day and age, both pastoral and educational institutions are joining
forces to respond to these challenges. Yet without the presence of sports
chaplains who are supported by the bishops conference, such projects would be
however, does the presence of a sports chaplain mean to the athletes themselves?
I offer a response that is based on my personal experience as chaplain at the
Olympic summer games in Seoul ( 1988). Barcelona ( 1992) and Atlanta ( 1996) as
well as the time I spent with these German athletes in my visits to their
training camps prior to these events. In my conversations with them, the
athletes often asked me to pray hard so that they might win. Yet, how can I pray
for the victory of a team? Whoever follows this thought through can see, how
each team's chaplain would end up competing in prayer: a Protestant pastor for
the American team, a Catholic chaplain for the Italian team, an Orthodox Bishop
for the Russians, the Muslim imam for the Arabs and a Buddhist monk for the
Korean team. With such a prayer competition, we could eventually do away with
the sports competition itself! (It is interesting to note, that at the games in
Seoul, on my accreditation form in the category of " sports discipline
" was britten the entry " priest " ).
joking aside, the subject of prayer is nonetheless an interesting step in
building this relationship between performance sports and the Church. John Paul
II was once asked: " What does the Pope pray for? " This was not in
view of sports but rather in general.
He answered " Gaudium et spes, luctus et angor hominem huius
temporis ", that is, " The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the
men of our time " as he cited the preamble of the Pastoral Constitution
Gaudium et Spes of The Second Vatican Council - this was the subject of the
Pope's prayers. This is the key as well for understanding the significant of the
presence of the chaplain in the world of sport and in the life of an athlete.
Anything that affects humankind must also affect the Church. " For the sake
of humanity " and not just out of a personal passion, sport is of great
concern for a Pope, for a chaplain and for the entire Church.
spite of several sports related stories and images in the Bible, sport is not an
eminent focus of the Church's attention.
eminent attention is the salvation of humanity. But " for the sake of
humanity " sports are a subject of pastoral concern and the sports chaplain
is, in a certain sense, the bridge between the Church and the human person who
is the athlete; he has to cultivate this personal contact with the athletes.
the days leading up to competitions such as the World Championships, Olympics,
Para Olympics, I committed many hours to making house calls to the rooms and the
dormitories of the athletes.
I passed out letters of welcome from the Church and a brief meditation booklet.
I was often privileged to hear the life stories of young athletes - often the
star athletes. During the games, there inevitably arose many discussions about
dealing with organizational failures and obvious judicial errors, which
diminished the performances of these male and female athletes, and even on
occasion robbed them of their laurels. I believe that my hospital visits or
bedside visits to the injured athletes, as well as our brief conversations, for
example, at breakfast or in the arena. have helped many.
the focus of the athlete at these major events is almost exclusively to their
athletic performance itself, I tried to help them to see, while sensitive to
their ups and downs, that there is more to life than sports. This message was
equally important to transmit to the media, the organizers and trainers, as it
was for the athletes themselves who are under a lot of pressure and have much to
express and " get off their chest ".
Church services at the sports events were often full of life and vitality. Yet,
he who is familiar to the subject matter knows that the majority of participants
are those who have their competitions behind them, or are the reserve athletes,
as those who have yet to perform rarely attend.
brings us to another point.
Even though there is a great appreciation and necessity for the
chaplain's presence at top level sports, the presence of the chaplain is just as
important in the everyday activities of the athletes. In fact, we could make
the blessing of new Church bells is for a parish priest, the Olympic games are
for the sports chaplain. Both the bell benediction and the Olympics share the
following: they are noisy, favour interesting encounters and draw the attention
of the media. Yet these are exceptions. The normal workday for a parish priest
is his service as a pastor who must take care of his parishioners. So too, the
normal workday for a sports chaplain consists is his pastoral service to the
sports associations, in catholic schools and organizations, in holding
ecclesiastic and ethical sport seminars, and in supporting the work of the laity
who serve the world of sport.
does a sport's chaplain, then, go about these tasks? What is his specific
contribution? A word from Lumen Gentium may serve as a guide to our response to
this inquiry: " In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh
that the mystery of man truly becomes clear; ... Christ the Lord.
fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling
". In light of this, I have tried in all of my initiatives to meld together
three things: the irreplaceable experience of fair sports; the promotion of a
sense of community spirit: the sharing and interpreting of the Christian
has helped me substantially in my work has been the " Scientific Commission
for Church and Sport in Germany " which is part of the German Bishop's
Conference. During two annual workshops made up of about a dozen of people -
ranging from sports scientists to theologians and sociologists - current sports
themes are considered in great detail in order to make public statements and
develop documents such as the " Christian Perspective in Sports " ( 10
volumes) and the " Church and Sport Forum ". Participants at
these workshops, in turn, avail themselves to all the dioceses in order to make
presentations, lead discussions and meetings, to identify the challenges of
sport and to assist in developing solutions. Presently, each diocese in Germany
has a representative for " Church and sport ". They all meet once a
year for an exchange of initiatives and to broaden their general knowledge of
most dioceses in Germany, there is close contact between these diocesan sport
representatives and the Catholic sports association " Deutsche Jugendkraft
" ( " German Youth Power " ) also know as DJK, which has more
clubs and over half a million members throughout Germany. Sports clinics for
priests, lasting an entire week, and " Sportexerzitien " (these are
weeklong meetings which combine an intellectual/spiritual exchange, physical
exercise and sports play) are increasingly appreciated. The confessional
structure in Germany fosters ecumenical aspects; representatives of the
different churches meet regularly with representatives of the German Olympic
Sports Association. The results of such meetings are, for example. the
ecumenical workshop " Church and sport ". Their themes show, how much
sport is a welcome partner for the church, and churches are a welcomed partner
for sport. I mention a few themes: sport for seniors; motion, play and sport on
an educational basis; sport for the handicapped; sport for the mentally retarded;
sport for youngsters in trade schools and factoties; unemployment and sport;
woman and sport; immigrants and sport. I have seen that by working together,
many initiatives for the disadvantaged can be mobilized and sustained.
course, during these " Church and sport " workshops. many ethical
aspects are also addressed, such as fair play and the relation between work,
stress and leisure time. It is not surprising that this contact with various
religious groups has promoted ecumenical work. The joint sports declaration of
the two main churches in Germany, entitled " Sport and Christian ethics
" is a good example of this. Here I am reminded of the words of Pope
Benedict: " It is the Lord's commandment, but also the imperative of the
present hour, to carry on dialogue with conviction at all levels of the Church's
life. This must obviously take place with sincerity and realism, with patience
and perseverance, in complete fidelity to the dictates of one's own conscience
in the awareness that it is the Lord who gives unity, that we do not create it
is being discussed and lived at the national level, has exemplary character for
the gatherings at the regional and local levels. A comprehensive mutual
understanding, however, has not yet been achieved.
have referred to all of these efforts and initiatives, because I am convinced
that only through the continual joint efforts of those engaged in " Church
and sport ", can educational solutions be achieved and implemented. Sports
chaplains have constructed, and can continue to build, bridges between the
Church and the world of sport, providing many pastoral opportunities that before
did not exist. They offer " moments of reflection ", and a concrete
ecclesial " presence " in the world of sport. In fact, their
liturgical celebrations - at times extending beyond the physical boundaries of
the Church as they overflow into the public square - often create interest
particularly among those with agnostic views. Yes, we know that there is no
secret formula for a sport chaplain. It is only through ongoing. personal and
frequent contact with athletes and trainers themselves within the top sports
associations and sport clubs, that top athletes (despite their many commitments)
will eventually attend such gatherings. In this regard, a Catholic sports
association - such as the DJK - can greatly facilitate the work of a sports
chaplain through its man power and the organizational strength that it provides.
a last point. I would like to mention a few things from my new vantage point, as
it is now exactly eleven years since I became the pastor of a large city parish
with more than 25,200 Catholics and several social institutions. Although I am
no longer a full time sport chaplain, sports are a part of the pastoral ministry
of the parish. Among the many youth clubs in my parish we have five DJK sports
associations with almost 2,000 members. This is a meeting point for people of
different religions and beliefs. I am limited as a parish priest to periodic
contact with the leadership of these clubs and only occasional participation in
activities (for example: sports events or annual retreats). In this sense, it
has proven invaluable that each Catholic sports club has a engaged Catholic
contact person to the parish. It is also desirable, that the sport's club
chairmen are invited to events with the other leaders of the Church's social
organizations on a regular basis.
the very beginning of my service in the parish, I have promoted the idea of a
youth pastoral centre. This is the " Philip Neri Zentrum " (PNZ )
which has been located at the main train station of our city since its
foundation in 1998.
Here each week we offer programs including dance and gymnastics, which
are open to all. The youth enjoy volley ball tournaments and soccer games which
are concluded in the evening with a Mass and social event. Many youth attend the
“ Ora et Labora weeks " which consist in a week of communal living with
prayer, work. and meals in common. This exposes new youth to the " oratory
", meaning " prayer room " and continues the work undertaken in
the spirit of Philip Neri.
we enjoy being hosts in our community. We have excellent facilities and a first
class catering service through the food service of our hospital. Toward the end
of April 2007, for example, we hosted 120 guests among the
1300 youngsters from 13 nations, who arrived to participate in the
Salesian " Sportsplay " tournament play taking place in our Diocese.
This event takes place each year in a different country and consists of five
days of sport activities, singing, prayer and the promotion of world
understanding of the highest order. It would have been a joy for Don Bosco to
" Hey, horseman, where are you headed? " I conclude by saying that the roads of sport are wide open. A chaplain in the world of sport can achieve little, if he only appears as an event amplifier. His real chances at success are in the continued day to day work, in the promotion of Catholic communities, who are oriented towards sport and society, and in drawing strength from the example of Philip Neri and Don Bosco.