Church must wake up more to sport: Olympic coordinator

Sport is important to religion, and religion is important to sport

By Marcus Mergulhao

Panaji: James Parker has worked long enough with professional athletes and the Catholic Church to know the benefits of sport.

As Catholic executive coordinator for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012, Parker oversaw massive programs for the homeless, peace initiatives and liturgical celebrations. He chaired More Than Gold, one of the world’s largest ecumenical initiatives which saw 16 Christian denominations come together, and then served at most levels of the Church, including three years working for the Vatican across Africa and the Middle East.

“Sport is important to religion, and religion is important to sport. In some way, neither of them have a sense of their whole identity without each other. We are born with a passion, dreams, and desire to win, to compete. There is no day without night, and no wet without dry,” Parker said on the sidelines of the Western India Regional sports ministry conference at Old Goa on November 1.

The conference was organized to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the John Paul II Foundation for Sports in Goa and Parker made it a point to tell the delegates, which included several sportspersons, how sport can change lives.

“The Church must wake up more to sport because I am seeing, in the heart of sportspersons, they are looking for a sense of something greater within their sporting activities. Kids love sports. There is a great passion, but we also know that sport can be incredibly destructive if it’s taken away from the fuller context of human person.

“Church has a lot to gain from sport, because it’s a place where passion begins to rise. It’s important for church leaders to understand sport. I’ve also worked with three Cardinals; every one of those Cardinals was either the captain of his rugby, football or cricket team, or someway excelled in sport,” said Parker, a Briton now settled in Australia.

Parker said St. Pope John Paul was a friend of sport and was the inspiration behind the Pope John Paul Foundation for Sport, and while Pope Benedict has spoken about how sport can be “tool for the teaching of life’s ethical and spiritual values,” nobody valued sport more than Pope John Paul II.

“There is little in the scripture about sport. Pope John Paul mentioned sport 140 times,” said Parker.

Fortunately for the world, Pope Francis cannot stop gushing about sport too.

In Goa, Parker had a word with Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao, who inaugurated the seminar, and was pleased to hear that the Church in Goa has wholeheartedly backed sport, including the Organisation of the Unity World Cup.

“Sport is a beautiful gift of spirituality. If the church can push sport aside, they are pushing aside an incredibly important part,” said Parker.

“In Goa, you have a vibrant generation of young people that still have a vision that the world can be a better place. In the western world, I don’t see that anymore,” he said.

(Source: The Times of India)

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