British parishes work to involve Catholics in Olympics

By  Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service
  • July 15, 2012

MANCHESTER, England - A "family triathlon" was a novel idea; as far as Colm Hickey was aware, it hadn't been tried before.

It would involve teams of three people from the same family, each of whom would compete in one of the three categories of the event — either cycling, running or swimming — against other families.

Hickey, in his role as the London 2012 Olympics Catholic "gold champion" of Our Lady and St Joseph parish in London helped with the May 13 family triathlon. A week later, there was a huge soccer tournament, also organized by Hickey and, closer to the July 27-Aug. 12 Olympics, there will be other parish-based, though not exclusively Catholic, sporting activities such as track-and-field events for children in the area.

These are just some of the events that Hickey, 55, a teacher, has been promoting through his parish since he was recruited as a gold champion in September. The parish-based gold champions represent just one of many initiatives of More Than Gold, an umbrella group of 16 Christian denominations set up with the aim of helping the churches to engage more closely with this summer's Olympics.

The idea of a gold champion in every parish was to try to interest the entire Catholic community in the games.

"The whole concept," explained Hickey, "is just trying to get people in any way to be inspired by sport."

Sport and religion should be connected, he said, so that people become "more active, more community-focused, have a good life and to develop friendships they wouldn't normally have."

"I haven't banged the religious drum too much, but I am saying in the literature I am putting out that this is part of the Church's contribution, this is what we are doing ... so that people can feel a greater affinity to the parish and a greater sense of community to our area," he said.

The Catholic Church would help build cohesive communities and strong parishes if it used sport in a creative way, he said.

"If we believe sport can be a mechanism of doing good in people's lives ... then the Church should be involved in sport," Hickey said.

Although the activities of the gold champions may tempt Catholics to take part in sport, other initiatives are being planned during the games to help visitors take their mind off sport and to focus on religion instead. Key among these will be the Joshua Camp, which will be set up in St. Bonaventure's Catholic School, just a 20-minute walk from the Olympic Village in East London.

About 400 Catholics from at least 13 countries will be based at the camp. Participants first meet Aug. 1 for three days of training before they break up into small teams for eight days to evangelize and to offer service and hospitality to visitors.

"There will be a sort of festival feel to the first three days," said Alice Hall, camp co-ordinator and a member of the Sion Catholic Community for Evangelism.

"But we want to make sure that everyone is on the same page and to teach them how to share their faith with other people."

The Catholic adults staying at the camp will work in hospitality centres — one of which is Westminster Cathedral — and will give out bottles of water on the main highways to the Olympic stadium. But they will also be inviting visitors into two Catholic churches in London's West End — the dining, entertainment, shopping district — and into another church close to the stadium with the suggestion that they pray, light candles, read Scripture and leave written petitions for prayer before they depart.

Throughout the duration of the games, residents of the Joshua Camp will also be participating in round-the-clock adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, praying for a "peaceful and safe" Olympics.

At least one English bishop will celebrate Mass at the camp, and the Franciscans Friars of the Renewal will also be on hand to encourage and minister to residents.

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