Olympic Games: flying the flag for Christ, New Evangelisation into practice.
I want to share with you a few things about the Olympic Games that I found quite interesting:
Did you know that originally the Olympic Games were thought as a tribute to the “gods of the Olympus”? If in the Ancient Greece their philosophy antagonised the physical and the spiritual, our faith reconnect both and points that health should involve both body and soul. Like that in mid-19th century, the Olympic Games were rescued from the forgetfulness by the effort of some religious leaders:
– The Catholic priest Henri Didon, a famous orator and writer, is as well the father of the Olympic motto: ‘faster, higher, stronger’.
– In London in 1908, the Anglican bishop Ethelbert Talbot pronounced the words that became the Olympic creed, “The most important thing in these Olympics is not so much winning as taking part”.
– Baron Pierre de Coubertin, educated by Jesuits and the founder of the modern Olympics, was influenced by the very popular concept in Victorian England of “muscular Christianity”. These are his words: “The first essential characteristic of the Olympics, both ancient as well as modern, is to be a religion above and outside the churches.” The ‘Muscular Christianity’ reclaimed the biblical truth that human beings are created with a unity of flesh and spirit. For that sport was conceived as a method of strengthening faith and morality, which afterwards, in the USA, also shaped the programs of the YMCA, (Young Men’s Christian Association), Boy Scouts of America, and church sports leagues.
Something that we can read in the Scriptures about it.
-Mk 8:36 ‘What good is it for a man to win the whole world, but lose his own soul?’
-1Cor 9:24 ‘Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!’ which in the words of Mgr Nichols is an ‘analogy of our true goal in life, the real, eternal prize for which we are striving’. Or in words of Blessed John Paul II to competitors in the 1985 European Games for the Blind: ‘You do not allow yourselves to be overcome by difficulties but are determined to conquer them’.
What said Benedict XVI? During the Angelus on 22 July 2012, the Pope talking about the 2012 Olympic Games said: ‘The Olympics are the greatest world sporting event… We pray that, according to the will of God, the London Games are an experience of fraternity among the peoples of the Earth. …I pray that, in the spirit of the Olympic Truce, the good will generated by this international sporting event may bear fruit, promoting Peace and Reconciliation throughout the world’.
Some initiatives of the Catholic Church in England to mark the 30th Olympiad.:
Masses to celebrate the Olympic and Paralympic Games.- The Catholic 2012 Office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference has worked together with More Than Gold, the Churches’ temporary charity, to enable the UK Churches to support and engage in the 2012 Games. Also they invitated many former Catholic Olympians and sports professionals worldwide to join the Catholic community in giving thanks to God for the Games.
To celebrate the start of the 30th Olympic Games, and as part of the Catholic Church’s engagement in them, it was a Mass on Saturday 28 July at Westminster Catholic Cathedral. The Mass, concelebrated by the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark, and the Bishop of Brentwood, counted on, in between others, the Apostolic Nuncio, Mgr Antonio Mennini, and the Archbishop of Puerto Rico, Mgr Roberto González Nieves.
Archbishop Nichols in his homily pointed Tommy Godwin (91 y.o.), who in the 1948 London Olympics won a cycling medal for Great Britain, as representant of the true Olympian spirit, for he combined modesty with greatness, self-discipline with deep respect towards others, generosity with a noble spirit. And wished that many more people like him will emerge from these London Games, too.
Talking about the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, launched by Pope Benedict XVI during his Visit to the UK, Mgr Nichols emphasized the example given by Blessed John Paul II of classic virtues of temperance, fortitude, justice, courage, which should be achieved in both citizenship and sport. While he wished as well to find common ground between the pursuit of excellence in sport and Christian goodness in life. Equally he dedicated some words to the effort putted in the programme 100 Days of Peace, launched a few months earlier, which aimed recover the ancient Olympic custom of a truce between all warring cities at the time of the Games. And specially, in the Day for Life, he said: ‘Use your body for the glory of God’, reminding us that ‘our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit’ and that we should give glory to their Maker.
A Thanksgiving Mass in honour of the 14th Paralympic Games will also take place at St George’s Cathedral in Southwark on the 8 September.
3 Masses celebrated everyday in the athlete’s village for the athletes and officials from various nations. Some of them going daily, putting Christ at the centre of their lives.
‘Relay’ of 24 hours Eucharistic Adoration. During the London 2012 Olympic Games, athletes and visitors have opened the door to 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration in a ‘relay’ between three Parishes: St. Francis of Assisi Friary in Stratford, the closest Catholic church to the Olympic village in London’s East End; Our Lady and St. Catherine of Siena in Bow and St. Antony of Padua in Forest Gate. As it was estimated 5-6 million visitors, and 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries, the parishes in East London and at other Games venues, are welcoming Olympic visitors and offering them a place of rest and hospitality, among other series of special services and events, including: prayer evenings, Taizé prayer, benediction and healing Masses. Even they have had to ‘import’ extra priests elsewhere in the world to cope with the pastoral demand.
‘B XVI generation’ invade London on Pope’s orders. They are young Catholics from 21 nations with the task to bring Christ to ends of the earth and among contemporary society. They put in practise the Pope’ missionary prayer intentions for August: “that young people, called to follow Christ, may be willing to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel to the end of the earth”. So they have used this opportunity to create their own Joshua Camp with their tents on the green lawns of Bonaventure’s Catholic high school, a Mini World Youth Day’ experience, where they are attending daily catechesis, prayer vigils, Eucharistic Adoration and Mass. Plus they are sharing Christ, their Joy, with the poor and needy, local East London residents on the periphery of the Olympic stadium.
Vocations from the sport too. Carlos Ballve ,“Litus” for friends, defender on the Spanish field hockey team competing in these Games, will entry in the Seminary to become a priest as soon as the Games will finish. In 2005, during the Under-21 Championships, things were not well for the team, so he promised God he will visit Medjugore, (where the alleged Marian apparitions are still being studied by the Vatican), if they win a medal. They won bronze and he fulfilled his promise. Even though he turned back to his normal life, a need to search for God was born in him. Now he hopes “not only to win, but to grow in my living of the faith, sharing this with people from so many parts of the world”.
Did anybody noticed the hymns that resounded in the young voices of the children choir at the beginning of the Opening Ceremony? I was quite surprised when I recognised ‘Guide me, O thou great Redeemer’ and afterwards the familiar notes of one of Blessed Cardinal Newman Hymns. Did you? Finally, borrowing the words of Fr Francis Conway of St. Francis of Assisi Friary, I would like to ask you now: How are you flying the flag for Christ?
Menchu, Preston U.K.
50th International Eucharistic Congress (IEC); Dublin 10th – 17th June 2012
Before the 50th anniversary of the Opening of the II Vatican Council, the IEC, which is celebrated every four years in a different location of the globe, tried to review the actual situation of the Eucharistic Ecclesiology of Communion. The Programme of the congress, which started on the Feast of Corpus Christi, was based on the daily celebration of the Eucharist and had for its main theme: ‘The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another’.
There were analysed different perspectives for theological reflection; Ecumenism; missionary and pastoral themes; and it focused on the challenges of the New evangelization. The programme was developed through liturgies, seminars, sessions, and prayers, and counted with experts in different theology disciplines such as: Sacred Scriptures, liturgy, pastoral and moral theology, ecumenism, missiology and systematics. As well as counting with speakers representing lay, religious and clergy organisations from all over the world, included the Focolare and Taizé community, who delivered Catechesis and workshops, gave testimonies of faith and participated in the Celebration of the Eucharist.
The Congress gave also these figures: 25,000 participants/day; more than 12,000 pilgrims/5 continents; 80,000 participants in the Closing Ceremony; 2 main venues RDS (Royal Dublin Society) Arena & Croke Park; circa 3,000 volunteers; more than 200 stalls; more than 1,650 workshops and discussion groups; Masses, prayers and liturgical celebrations in 7 languages … an immense opportunity of renovation for the Catholics in Ireland; and for the world to join in prayer… 1 Lord, 1 Faith, 1 Baptism.
The Opening Ceremony; which welcomed ca 12,500 pilgrims from the world, was followed by a Mass concelebrated by Papal Legate Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and Archbishop Piero Marini, President of Pontifical Committee for IECs among others; where:
- Mgr Martin said that the Church in Ireland is on a path to renewal, and in “spirit of repentance”, remembered those victims of clerical sexual abuse. He also thanked God for all priests and religious men and women who in love of Christ served generously the Church.
- Cardinal Ouellet pointed in his homily that “…we go to church to meet the Risen Lord…’ and ‘by partaking in the Holy Eucharist, …we are called together by Lord Himself” And he finished by encouraging us to give God the adoration and gratitude He deserves for this gift of love.
- Cardinal Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa commented later that the Church lives for and is built up by the Eucharist; centre-point of our faith.
“Exploring and Celebrating Our Communion through Baptism” was the IEC Second day’s theme. In which Mgr. Diarmuid Martin of Dublin pointed that it is time for a New Evangelization. That we are in need of a radically renewed proclamation of Gospel for those already baptized, who for long have not experienced a real relationship with Jesus Christ. Or they have never reflected on the faith received through the societal and familial influence. He also suggested that the Gospel must be preached courageously even if it does not seem to find roots in people’ lives.
In the IEC Third day the theme was “Communion in Marriage and Family.” The day started with the pilgrimage that, at request of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, made to the famed St. Patrick’s Purgatory in reparation for the abuse committed by clergy and religious people and to pray for the healing for the abuse victims. Where Mgr. Charles Brown, appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland since last January, joined him and 100 Irish people in a pilgrimage in fasting and prayer overnight on the island. Meanwhile in Dublin the addresses were delivered among others by: the retired Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth. Who, following in the same line of fight which the Catholic Church maintains against the implantation of new laws that damage particularly the family in different countries, as Cameron’s British Government, said that “ the Church can compromise and face irrelevance or continue the teaching of Christ’s truth about marriage, life and love, and pray for the world will listen”. He lamented the rise in cohabitation, the “easy divorce,” and the continuous pressure from these Governments to legalize the same-sex marriage. In the Mass, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris challenged the Christian families to “ be witness to the greatness of family as stable union of a man and a woman before those who believe and those who don’t.”
IEC 4th day was devoted to the “Priesthood and Ministry in the Service of Communion.” In which Archbishop J. Michael Miller delivered a catechesis on “priests as men of communion”, where he discussed the relationship between ministerial and common priesthood; and how priests can foster communion and serve the laity in living their vocation. The Young people at EC bring the legacy of JMJ = WYD (World Youth Day) Imbibed by the Spirit of the WYD this new generation of young people are able to combine knees in prayer and adoration, or prayerful processions with vivacious displays of faith that often include a strong social message. Many of them, attending or volunteering at IEC, cited the WYD as a primary influence in the development of their faith. Many affirmed to belong to groups such as Youth 2000, Catholic Youth Care, Taizé or gospel choirs. It was also pointed, when asked about what motivated them to assist to the IEC, that the anger could not overshadow the positive aspects of the Church’s work, for the seeds might be sown. Others linked their decision to volunteer to the understanding of the Eucharist. But the common message was the need to give something back for so much received and that Catholic faith is the faith of love: just by loving people it is possible to reach them. So for them the way to act is by living the own life as a declaration of faith, the most powerful mean of evangelization.
The Closing Mass at Croke Park, in which our Bishop of Lancaster, Mgr Michael Campbell, was one of the concelebrants, the Papal legate, Cardinal Ouellet, in his homily for the ‘Statio Orbis’ of 50th IEC encouraged all to be full of confidence, for the ‘Lord sustains us; heals the wounds, the Church limitations and failures, and strengthens our love’. As well as to keep the hope; to rejoice in Him; to recommit to love the Lord Jesus. And to bear witness to the Lord by preaching the Gospel, living in fraternity and praising God for the gift of salvation. But especially to not be afraid, for we are the Body of Christ and we are not alone, the Spirit of Pentecost dwells in us and we are assisted by the communion of Saints, with Mary at its heart. At the end of the Mass, Benedict XVI, speaking in a pre-recorded message, invited all to be the holy people
of God; to celebrate the Eucharist with joy; to repent from our sins, to forgive one another; and to bring, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the good news of salvation to others. Archbishop Martin suggested, after deepened in faith and nourished by the Eucharistic communion with one another, to move forward and commit in the Year of Faith following the Pope’ words. The International Eucharistic Congress did not try to resolve problems, but to give evidence of a new energy to face them. Let its voice not be silenced, let’s have HOPE, let’s become what we celebrate.
Menchu, Preston (U.K.)
Faith, Hope and Charity.
A friend from ACNUK, (Aid to the Church in Need, UK), presented me a simple and beautiful project to see what could I do, as I am more in contact with children than herself. The idea was that children from parishes/ schools made cards with messages of support for persecuted Christians in the world, that would go, first to a wall of prayer in an event, called ‘Night of Witness’, organised by ACNUK and the Diocese of Westminster the 17th May. For later those cards to arrive, by diplomatic conduct, from Bishop to Bishop, to those who are truly suffering persecution in the world.
I found that it was a fantastic opportunity for our children at the Children’s Liturgy in St Gregory the Great, first to feel the belonging to the same Body of Christ, for them to understand that when a cell of that Body suffers the full Body feels the pain. And second, for them to see, despite how little they might be, that they also can put their little sand grain: via a support message; by saying you are in our prayers; or we pray for God keep you firm in faith (Phil 4:1), for your sufferings would not be in vain, but produce lot of fruit, (Mt 10: 22; Mt 28: 5, 10); or Blessed are you because you are insulted and persecuted because of Him (Mt 5:10-11). Being equally conscious that we, Christians, do not ask God to send a ball of fire to destroy those that persecute us, but following the Master, who died on the cross saying “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), we pray for those that hate us, mock at us, or want to harm us because of His Name. The very same Name through which we offer our prayers, because we have received the promise that they will be listened, (Jn 14:14). Because our God is the God of Mercy and Forgiveness, God of Love and not of hate. And even the little ones did carefully an exquisite good work, so that who receive it can see he/she matter to us.
I passed on the message to other Catechists from other parishes in the Diocese, some other young men took the project to their High Schools,…, even a friend brought it into her Brownies group. Each one collaborated as much as they could, and the cards with drawings, biblical quotations and prayers from our children together with those done at the neighbour Parish of the Blessed Sacrament were sent to say to those persecuted brothers and sisters that they were not forgotten, and to give witness of our faith and unity in Christ.
Later on from ACNUK we were asked to support them with our prayers; for all of us could be united in prayer for our persecuted brethren. Thus I put hands on work, I sent messages to all the people I know who are people of prayer, and I was astonished for the answer of my friends. There were offered the Sacrifice of the Eucharist in lot of places, they were organised chains of prayer, here, in Madrid and even in Bogotá. The day before we went to the near Marian Shrine of Ladyewell, to do a little vigil of prayer using the Mysteries of the Rosary. How beautiful! -I thought- For the Body of Christ they are no barriers, no distance, when we really try it, all the globe can join together in a single prayer. Many thanks to all of you for your support and prayers; for being ‘Together in Faith’.
Following the lead of Pope Benedict, who said in reference to religious freedom to be ‘the first of human rights, for it expresses the most fundamental reality of the person’, the event ‘Night of Witness’ aimed to be a call first to be united in prayer and reflection, and secondly a call to action, to bring to the public eye the right to religious freedom, giving voice at the same time to millions of Christians who suffer persecution in the world. Particularly in a moment in which attacks to Christians, and Christianity itself, from extremists, idiologic regimens and oppressive governments, have spread out. It was a call to be ‘Together in Faith’, to explore the meaning of being Christian nowadays, and through the sacrifice and witness of others, for our faith may grow too, so that we also could give Witness and Proclaim the Lord.
The ‘Night of Witness’, (despite starting at 4:30pm), congregated more than thousand people in Westminster Cathedral. The programme started with a Sang Mass in remembrance of those actual Martyrs, and was concelebrated by Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan, Catholic-Coptic Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt, Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, (Chairman of International Affairs of the Conference of Bishops of England and Wales). Also present were the Emeritus Archbishop Kevin McDonald of Southwark; Mgr Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham; Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod, Head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the UK and Emeritus Anglican Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali.
Afterwards, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, (also President of the Conference of Bishops of England and Wales), welcomed guests and people who filled Westminster piazza, while starting the Rally for Religious Freedom. That part was dedicated to celebrate our faith through music, dance, poetry, and the speeches of a group of guests and representatives of Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, Egyptian communities in the UK, and many others. In between the performances of: the Catholic band Ooberfuse, (winners of the WYD 2011 global song contest); the Eliot Smith Dance Company; the singer Helen Munt; the West End Gospel Choir; Hammad Baily and the Catholic poet Sarah de Nordwall, were seen some videos about different ways of persecution and the causes of it, when presenting the ACN’s publication ‘Christians & the Struggle for Religious Freedom’. That part ended in a procession lead by a huge wooden cross carried by some Pakistani Christians.
The event finished with a Solemn Candlelit Vigil back in Westminster Cathedral, using the Mysteries of Light of the Rosary, in thanksgiving for the sacrifice of Christians today, by lighting a candle and presenting the story of some of them: martyrs in Egypt, Fr Bernard Digal in India, Fr Ragheed Ghani in Iraq, Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan and the 4 y. o. Emmanuel Dilke, killed on Christmas Day.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, ACNUK’s director, said at the end that we are called to ‘dry the tears of abandoned Jesus on crosses of this century’, and that through our charity we have done that, heart to heart, with the suffering Church. And I think that each of us will have challenges in our particular way through life. Nevertheless, we carry in our heart the presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in which all become One, one single Body, His Church. And this transformation happens through Faith, which gives Hope and leads to Love. May the Almighty God sustain, forgive and lead us; may He protect all of us from all evil, and lead us in unity and sanctity. Amen.
Menchu, Preston (U.K.)
The First Holy Communion of my daughter
Last Divine Mercy Sunday, my eldest daughter received for the first time the Body and Blood of the Lord, bread of live, chalix of salvation which make us partakers of the new covenant. Something so big, the Redemptor GOD offering himself!… and so humbly presented in the species of bread and wine, just for love to us! How magnificent gift!
We have been preparing for it since long ago, by reading and meditating the Word of God every night, by working with the Catechism, trying to live as we believe, praying together, and of course participating in His Sunday banquet, the Eucharist, apex and centre of our Christian life. It has been a very blessed period for all of us, in which one we have received, as usual, much more from Our Lord than we have put on it. For all of us, who have done our own First Communion a ‘little’ while ago, this time has served to renew our faith, to see it with a new prism, the eyes of a child, to realise better how privileged we are. Every single time the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is offered, we are invited to enjoy God’s own banquet; we, poor creatures, can share the own Body, the own Blood of our Lord. What an honour! What a Grace!
When my child couldn’t understand much with her head, nevertheless she understood with her heart. Definitively better than me she grasped the right fundamental bits, and delivered them to me in such a simple and, at the same time, deep meaningfully way, that let me totally amazed. There I saw the Holy Spirit of Truth working, abiding in her. I was trying to catechise her so that she could live in deeply communion with Christ, so that she could experience the joy of being witness, and it was me the catechised. Yes, I have been so blessed that despite all my lacks I wasn’t worried, since I know, as Pope Benedict wrote ‘do your job as better as you can, then, the rest is the job of the Holy Spirit’.
It has also been a time to reinforce the sharing in faith and life, with other members of the big Community, the universal Church; to be formed and fed as the Body of Christ in the world; and to understand that with that privilege of eating His flesh and drinking His blood comes in parallel the responsibility to share the grace and love received with others. Or in the words of Pope Benedict ‘to communicate the Truth of Love for one another,…to bring Christ to mankind’.
That day during the Holy Mass the Word of God continuously resounded in my head, calling me: ‘Take; this is my body, ‘This Is my blood …’ How beautiful way to express God’s love for us!
Truly, it has been a transforming encounter for my daughter’s and our souls that has brought complete joy to our hearts. And as St Teresa of Ávila said I too hope that ‘May the soul be useful to the body, for the love of God, so that other times may the body serve the soul’.
For all of it I can only say ‘Thanks to you Almighty and Merciful God’, which by no casualty is exactly the meaning of Eucharist. (Even nowadays this is still the meaning of the word in actual Greek eucaristv = thanks). And we will continue praying to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit ‘…give us this day our daily bread…’
Blessed be God forever!
Menchu, Preston (U.K.)