Catholics encouraged to get involved in sport

Delegates Costia Malov from Moscow and James Parker from London

Delegates Costia Malov from Moscow and James Parker from London

Two hundred people from more than 90 sports organisations and ministries gathered recently in Orlando, Florida for a global meeting of the International Sports Coalition to develop ways that Christian denominations can use sport as a tool for human formation and as a way of witnessing to and, where appropriate, presenting the gospel message to those involved in sport.

Ten different councils met, ranging from Serving the People of Sport which focuses solely on ministering to sporting individuals, to Global Community Games which consists of community-focused sports and games events, and which draws agencies, churches, companies, organisations and schools together into a partnership across a city, village, or region, each connecting creatively with children, teenagers, families or
single/university age participants.

Significant attention was given to the Major Sporting Event Partnership council whose role is to mobilise, train and equip communities for major sporting event service and outreach at all major regional and global events.

With preparations underway for two major European events in 2012, the UEFA European Football Championship jointly hosted by Poland and Ukraine and the UK’s hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, attention was given to how the Catholic Church might play a fuller part in working alongside other Christians in serving these global community events.

James Parker, Catholic executive co-ordinator for the 2012 Games, attended on behalf of Christian denominations from the UK and was the sole Catholic representative among the seventy countries present.

“Many sports organisations and local churches have long known of the benefits of being involved in sport and serving sports people as a way to build a bridge so as to connect with their cultures, with basketball and volleyball both being created for this purpose.” he said.  

“It is clear from the partnerships being created and developed between Christians globally that Christ is able to be more tangibly present when denominations are willing to share their energies and resources and work together in the sporting world.”

“Pope Benedict recently spoke of how Catholics need to continue to lead in the promotion of Christian unity.  The sporting arena is the perfect stage where affective collaboration can rapidly lead to effective ecumenical dialogue.”

In the run up to Sochi hosting the Winter Olympic Games in Russia in 2014, and Brazil the FIFA World Cup, efforts are being made to ensure as wide an alliance as possible is established with Catholics needing to play a key role in both these major events.

Costia Molav from Moscow, who is responsible for the Christian outreach in Sochi, works alongside the Baptist and Pentecostal churches and is keen to see the Catholic Church more involved, as well as the Russian Orthodox Church.

“Although the Winter Games are an inspiring event,” he said, “the most exciting aspect of these Games is that churches can start working together more closely, and liaising with each other in a way they never have done before.

“The most accessible way for denominations to begin to relate to one another Christians is through sport more than any other church ministry. We particularly want to work with Catholics as they are known for their theological understanding of sport and often come up with innovative ideas which can gather and inspire people.”

Paul Moses from India, who has been a leader in global sports ministry for over twenty-five years, spoke of sport being “one of the few activities that brings people together no matter where you are on the globe. Colour, race, language, religion, age and gender are all forgotten on the sporting field, in the pool or on the court.

“The sports world is a huge society, and it is here that we have the fulfilling opportunity to influence people’s lives. It’s certainly inspiring to see young people bringing others closer to God through the world of sport. It is also very exciting to see how sport can transform a whole culture.

“As Christians, no matter what our denominations, we need to come together to impact the world of sport simply because in a few years this is going to be the biggest attraction to people throughout the world. We see sports ministry as one of the leading areas in evangelisation in the new millennium.

“The technological domain is a great way of preaching the Gospel, but in the physical world it is through sport that we make the difference. Every denomination should help to transform our sportsmen and women. If we worked to get young people’s characters right, then the world would be a better place within a few years.”

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