On the 7 and 8 of September 2007, the “ Church and Sport ” Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity hosted an international seminar on the theme: “ Sport: a pastoral and educational challenge”. The aim of the seminar was to reflect on the role of the priest as a sports chaplain since he can serve as an initial door of entry for pastoral ministry to the growing world of sport, a world that encompasses both the professional and amateur level and that finds its culmination at the major sporting events. Pope Benedict XVI’s appeal for the world of sport “to be illuminated by God through Christ ” (Letter on the occasion of the Winter Olympic Games in Turin, 29 November 2005), and his speech on “Educating in the faith ” given at the opening of the Diocese of Rome Convention (11 June 2007), provided a general background for our reflections on the role of the sports chaplain. In this light, the chaplain emerged as one who is actively engaged in bringing the presence of Christ to the world of sport as both guide and friend to athletes and a bold witness to the Gospel and to the dignity of the human person engaged in sport. An essential priority of pastoral work is that of bringing new generations closer to the faith, and this pertains especially to the youth who practise sports as this activity can and should be an educational and formative experience. Nonetheless, because today “every educational task seems more and more arduous and precarious due to the increasing difficulty encountered in transmitting the basic values of life and correct behaviour to the new generations” (Benedict XVI, Inaugural speech at the Diocese of Rome Convention, 11 June 2007), and because sport itself at times loses its educational capacity, it was essential that this seminar reflect on these educational challenges and seek ways in which they could be overcome by those engaged in the pastoral ministry to sport. From this analysis, the sports chaplain was also seen as a potential guide for athletes who are immersed in the world of relativism and materialism, and where parents and educators often abdicate their personal responsibility in their instruction. Whereas the task of education passes through freedom, it also requires authority. Here the sports chaplain can provide an authoritative voice that is all the more convincing as he gains the respect of athletes through genuine service that entails spending time with
them and showing a sincere interest in their good. In fact, it was noted that whereas coaches, fellow players, and even parents can have a vested interest in only the sporting success of the player, the chaplain is there exclusively for their ultimate good regardless of the outcome of their performance.
Although the focus of the seminar was specifically on the role of the chaplain, these efforts to evaluate the Church’s pastoral ministry to date revealed the immense opportunities that sporting activities offer to the laity and their creative and apostolic action. Coaches, parents, sport directors and volunteers can and must contribute to recovering the formative dimension of sport, and they can use the opportunities offered by sport for the “ socialisation of faith”. The seminar was an opportunity for chaplains of Olympic teams and those involved in the organisation of large sporting events to have an initial exchange of ideas and to discuss initiatives and ways of working together suited to their specific ministry. We are grateful for the generous collaboration and wide range of experiences that the participants and speakers from around the world brought to the table. The proceedings of the seminar are in the process of being edited and will be published in English and Italian.