Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Catholic Olympians (part 1)

Athletes Putting Christ 1st With Daily Mass in Olympic Village
Mass Brings Highest Attendance of Any Religious Service

LONDON, England, AUG. 6, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Church of England and Wales is taking advantage of the Olympic Games to evangelize London locals, the thousands of tourists in the city for the events, and the athletes as well.
Speaking to Vatican Radio, James Parker, Catholic executive coordinator for the Olympic Games, reported that not only is daily Mass celebrated within the Olympic Village, it also has the "highest attendance at any of the religious services."

"There are a number of athletes and officials from various nations who are coming there every day and they are placing Christ at the beginning and the center of all they do," he said.
"People are beginning to come out of their homes they want to meet, to be together for festivities. The Churches have been preparing for this. The Catholic Church and other Christian communities have organized festivals to harness this community spirit. So that people have the opportunity to speak about what brings joy to their lives and an opportunity to speak about Christ," Parker said.

One year ago this month, Pope Benedict XVI told the future of the global Church that their task was to bring Christ to the ends of the earth and among contemporary society. Again this month he repeated this mandate in his 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."
Proving that they earnestly take him at his word, young Catholics from 21 nations have invaded London’s Olympic borough, pitching their tents on the green lawns of Bonaventure’s Catholic high school, creating their own "Joshua Camp."

Over the next three days, these young men and women, boys and girls will be attending daily catechesis, prayer vigils, Eucharistic Adoration and Mass in the shadow of the Olympic stadium.

Parker said these days of reflection, prayer and meditation are a vital part of the mission. "It's not just about street evangelization, it's about being open to the message of Christ in our own hearts first and foremost. It's not just a message that we share. We are sharing Christ with the people around us," he said.
On Tuesday, Joshua Camp will be out and about mingling with sports fans from across the globe and local East London residents.

"The Joshua Camp is about going to the poor and needy on the periphery of the Games," Parker said, "and saying 'come and see what it's all about' and not only but also ‘come and take part of this great banquet that God’s got prepared for us.'"

From professional athlete to the Catholic priesthood.   by Sheryl A. Englund, Ithaca.edu

When the IC football team took the 1991 Division III national title in the championship game against the University of Dayton, quarterback Joe Fitzgerald ’93 was in seventh heaven. Joe remembers with relish, too, standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the 1996 Olympic opening ceremony in Atlanta with fellow U.S. Olympian Shaquille O’Neal. Days later Joe heard the swelling cheers of the crowds when he scored a goal against Sweden for the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team Handball Squad. (The U.S. team lost the game in the final minutes and was eliminated after six games; Sweden went on to win the silver medal.)
Losing was not a crushing defeat for Joe; the young athlete always put things in perspective. “When IC won the national [football] championship,” recalls the North Babylon, New York, native, “I said that if the birth of my first child or the day I say my first mass is not a bigger event than winning a game, then I don’t have my priorities straight.” Both paths seemed possible to him at the time.

There were many proud moments during his sports career — which included a decade traveling with the national handball team and a year playing professional handball in Sweden — but none compared to how he felt this past June 10. On that day he did actually celebrate his first mass as a Roman Catholic priest, after completing his studies at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception on Long Island. More than a dozen IC friends attended Joe’s ordination the day before at St. Agnes Cathedral. Since then he has been serving as one of four priests at St. Killian Church in Farmingdale, a large congregation with a bishop in residence.

A few weeks after that momentous day, on August 3, Joe married Lauren Avellino ’04 — to her Ithaca College sweetheart, Jason Macy ’03; it was Joe’s first time officiating at a wedding. “Ithaca College was such an important part of our lives,” says Lauren. “We were blessed to have Father Joe initiate our life together.”

Despite the great change in his life, much has remained the same for this athlete and believer. “The spiritual journey,” Joe observes, “is very similar to training for an athletic event. They both take a great deal of discipline.”

Joe still works out when he can — he completed the New York City Marathon last year with a time of 4:11:12 — but now he views athletics as a way to reach and relate to people. “People love their priest,” he says. “There aren’t too many Olympic priests, or priests who played football at a great school. My experiences help me get into lives in a different way.”

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