La présence de l'aumônier dans le monde du sport par Manfred Paas

A 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.

Recently, the German Olympic Sports Association's Coaches Academy,

together 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.

Here, 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 unthinkable.

What, 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 " ).

    All 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.

In spite of several sports related stories and images in the Bible, sport is not an eminent focus of the Church's attention.

Her 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.

During 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.

Mostly, 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.

Since 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 ".

The 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.

This 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 this analogy.

What 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.

How 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 message.

What 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 sports.

In 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 than   1100 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.

Of 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 ".

What 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.

I 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.

As 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.

From 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.

Finally 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 see.

"   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.