“Sport has the potential to remind us that beauty is one of the ways we can encounter God.”
This is certainly the belief of those who gathered online on March 28 for the national “Sport and Faith” consultation hosted by the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry.
The consultation brought together people who have a passion and “vision of sport that emphasises its importance for the building of a more humane, peaceful and just society as well as for evangelisation”.
Dr Santiago Pérez de Camino led the Vatican’s Church and Sport Office from 2013 to 2022 and was invited by the bishops to provide the keynote presentation. As a contributor to the Vatican’s Giving the best of yourself: A document on the Christian perspective on sport and the human person, Dr Pérez de Camino was able to set the scene for the myriad of ways Catholics could make the connection between sport and faith.
“There are many values and lessons that sport can teach us,” Dr Pérez de Camino said, “from giving us a unified view of the human being – body, soul and spirit – to understanding and appreciating fair-play, teamwork, equality and respect, and joy alongside suffering and sacrifice.”
Dr Stephen Reid, Helene O’Neill and Monsignor John Woods provided a perspective on the Australian sporting landscape.
Dr Reid, whose recent PhD was on the theme of sports chaplaincy, stated that:
“Chaplains often see themselves as involved in the mission of God, as they bring positive values and a sense of justice and integrity which all contribute positively to club culture. They can also be ‘culture brokers’, for example, linking the parish with the club.”
An award-winning initiative, Welcome to the beach – a program teaching migrants and refugees beach safety – and Same Wave – a beach program for children with a disability – were two unique examples of sport intersecting with faith provided by Ms O’Neill.
“Sport is a great example of the ‘Joy of the Gospel’, and it is a place where we not only see the gifts of the Holy Spirit – but also the fruits of that same Spirit,” Ms O’Neill said.
Chaplain to the Canberra Raiders for more than 30 years, Monsignor Woods suggested that sport is a parable for modern society.
“It parallels so many aspects of our faith,” he said. “Both are about life and death, success and failure, that life is not always fair and that ‘we are in this together’ (integral ecology), it is about the joy of life and both are ever-evolving.”
Participants were invited to share their own reflections and thoughts on the connection between sport and faith in small groups.
Archbishop Christopher Prowse and Bishop Brian Mascord reflected on the presentations and invited attendees into a prayerful reflection of what had been shared and where we can go in the future.
The consultation indicated strongly that the sporting culture in Australia is rich in its diversity and that there are great opportunities to strengthen its link with our Catholic faith. It will require further consultation, not only in dioceses and locally, but with sporting organisations, parents and athletes of all ages.
The National Centre for Evangelisation (NCE) is continuing its consultation on sport and faith, inviting further contributions on how we can strengthen the link between sport and faith. You can contribute to the consultation via the NCE website.
Feedback shared in the next four weeks will assist the NCE in providing a report to the Bishops Commission as to how we might engage and support the significance of sport for the human person and its connection with our faith life.
Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. Giving the best of yourself: a document on the Christian perspective on sport and the human person, 2018.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. A crown for Australia: Striving for the best in our sporting nation, Social Justice Statement, 2014-2015.
Words: Sharon Brewer
 Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. Giving the best of yourself: a document on the Christian perspective on sport and the human person, 2018.