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2° SEMINAIRE INTERNATIONAL DU VATICAN
Aumônier national dans l'Eglise par Edward Plen

First of all, I would like to congratulate the organizers of this event.

This initiative of offering us chaplains the opportunity of getting together in order to share experiences with others has been for me very useful and I wish to express my gratitude to all of you for this. My presentation will consist of two parts. First. I will describe how the pastoral ministry to sport is organized in Poland. Then I will share with you some of my responsibilities as the National Chaplain of sports men.

Before I begin, however, I would like to share a brief reflection.

in what is the " pastoral ministry to sport " ? How can it be defined or in what does it consist? The pastoral ministry to sport finds its foundation in the Christian humanism of the person and is inspired by some universal values, namely: healthy competition, friendship, the mutual recognition of the dignity of the person, solidarity, justice, and peace. It has as its purpose and mission that of " impregnating " the world of sport with the values of a Christian ethos, that excludes the instrumentalisation of the person, and safeguards against a possible inversion of the hierarchy of values which is fueled by a " win at all cost " mentality.

The pastoral ministry to sport seeks to create the favourable condi- tions in order to rediscover the values that God has written in the heart of every person. Its highest aim is the elevation of the human qualities of the athlete, through the appreciation of the transcendent dimension of the person and their fundamental dignity as beings created in the image and likeness of God, the crowing work of his creation. Those engage in this ministry have the mission of helping sports men and women to recognize and live according to this truth.

Regarding the structure of the pastoral ministry of sport in the Catholic Church in Poland, this ministry officially began in 2001 when the Polish Bishops' Conference nominated Bishop Marian Florczyk as its delegate to the world of sport. Successively, the Bishops' Conference nominated me as the National chaplain of sportsmen. Together. Bishop Florczyk and I began to give structure to this pastoral ministry to sport.

Today, every diocese has its own sport chaplain.

The local bishop oversees the pastoral care of sport in his diocese.

while the sport chaplains work directly with the sport associations and clubs. In accord with the delegate for sport of the bishop conference, as chaplains, we give life to the pastoral work of sports men and women at the national level by attending and actively participating in the most important sporting events. Some of the major initiatives that we are engaged in include: the publication and promulgation of a " letter to athletes " on behalf of the Polish Bishops' Conference. The last letter was published in occasion of the Olympic Games in Athens with the title: " In defence of the good of the games ". Actually, we are preparing are new letter from the bishops to all sportsmen in occasion of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. This message will also make reference to the European Soccer Championship which will be held in Poland and Ukraine in 2012; the publication of a " Prayer Book " with occasion of the Olympic Games; the organization of a number of study seminars on the formational and educational aspects of sport. Some past seminars themes include: " Church and Sport ", " Sport and Education " " Sport and the dimension of the person ". " The theology and philosophy of sport ", " Sport at the service of youth ", " Sport and violence ".

          Twice a year, the sport pastoral council holds a national meeting with the 47 sport chaplains from each diocese. Also present at these meetings are the chaplains to sports clubs, and associations and youth teams; about 300 people altogether. We also organize " days of reflection " or spiritual exercises for athletes, trainers, directors and chaplains. Within the Polish Bishops' Conference, Bishop Florczyk presents an annual report on the pastoral activities to the world of sport.

  Other activities of national relevance include a Christmas event with national athletes and their families which involves about 1500 people; an Easter get together; a sport's pilgrimage to Jasna Gora; clerical soccer and table tennis championships; championships for seminarians: championships for the Catholic youth associations ( Parafiada, A.C.S,

Salesians); summer vacation sport and recreation camps. Regarding this last point, the Salesian sport organization " SALOS " holds approximately 300 summer camps for more than 15,000 youth.

Sport also provides us with many ecumenical meetings with the other sport associations, that are present in Poland such as the Orthodox sport association, the Lutheran sport association, and the Jewish Maccabiah Games.

The National chaplain is nominated by the Polish Bishops' Conference and charged with the following tasks with regards to the pastoral care of elite athletes: to be present at the Olympic Games. and the World Cup or European soccer championships; to participate in the conferences. activities and assemblies related to these major sporting events (note that the travelling and lodging costs are normally covered by the national Olympic team or other organizations related to these events); to officiate at marriages, baptisms, and funerals of national athletes and their families; to assist national athletes in the preparation for the sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation, and Confirmation, and to administer the Anointing of the sick; to organize and invite athletes to the days of reflection and spiritual exercises which range from 3 to 6 days in duration; to personally accompany these athletes during particularly difficult moments in their lives such as a family or marital crisis; to attend to sick or injured athletes, especially those who are at times left abandoned in their convalescence; (the importance of this act of charity is often overlooked in elite sports and can do so much good to boost moral); to keep in frequent contact with these athletes through epistolary or email correspondence (with occasion of certain events or milestones, Christmas or Easter greetings, birthdays or feast of their patron saint ); to participate in the assembly meetings of the National Polish Olympic Committee and the parliamentary commission of " Physical Education and Sport " where it is possible to present the Church's teachings regarding sport. The National Chaplain also meets regularly with the Minister of Sport.

It is my opinion that the tasks of the national chaplain should not be any less than those proper to one engaged in the pastoral work of sport. That is to say, he should be committed full time to this pastoral work so that it becomes the centre of his ministry and not just one more burden or an additional task that is added on to his other numerous responsibilities. Pastoral ministry to the world of sport is a year round task and not just limited to the few days of a championship or the Olympics because the athletes themselves have need of this spiritual assistance not only during these peak moments but throughout the entire year. The chaplain must be always available and accessible. especially during the preparation for these events as well as immediately after them. Furthermore, the chaplain must not simply wait for the athletes to come to him but must actively go out to meet them and to establish a good rapport with the athletes. They must follow the foot-steps of Pope John Paul II, who was attributed with these words in his last days, referring to the youth: " I have sought after you and now you have found me ".