The athletes’ village for the Pan Am Games, left, will be home to Fr. Eduardo Soto for the best part of the summer. The Venezuelan Jesuit will be part of the Archdiocese of Toronto’s chaplaincy team for the Pan Am and Parapan Games to be held in the city during July and August. Photo at left courtesy of TO2015, Soto photo courtesy of Fr. Eduardo Soto

Chaplaincy team ready for Pan Ams

  • June 25, 2015

TORONTO - Growing up in Venezuela, Fr Eduardo Soto fell in love with the Pan Am Games when his home country hosted the quadrennial event in Caracas in 1983.

“I was only 11 years old and I remember all of the excitement surrounding the call for us to be there as the country that hosted the Pan Am Games,” said the Jesuit. “And I still follow the Pan Am Games. Team sports are my favourite but also track and field and swimming are great as well.”

A step for athletes looking to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics, this year’s games, hosted by Toronto, will draw more than 5,000 athletes from across the Americas.

What captivated Soto about the Games so many years ago was the way in which the athletes from 36 different sports came together as one team to represent their nation.

Now more than 30 years later, Soto will be spending most of his summer not only soaking in the spirit of sport, but also working the games as a member of the Catholic chaplaincy team.

“I feel like this is an opportunity to be part of the team,” he said. “To be part of the chaplaincy team at the Pan Am Games will be an opportunity, like a lab, to bestow and develop all of my skills, all of my intercultural training, all of my tools as a priest and as a councillor with very special people.”

Soto, currently posted in Winnipeg, will be one of three full-time chaplaincy members. That team, available from July 1 until Aug. 18 between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. with the support of six part-time members, will work in two shifts. (The Pan Ams take place in two stages, the Pan Ams July 10-26 and the Parapan Am Games Aug. 7-18.)

The team will work primarily in one of the three spiritual rooms at the athletes’ village, located in the east end of downtown Toronto. The Catholic chaplaincy team, which will share a room with other Christians and Jewish faith leaders, will celebrate daily Mass, provide spiritual counselling and simply lend an ear to the participants.

“What the volunteers, the coaches and the athletes will need I think will primarily be Mass and confessions,” said Deacon Stephen Pitre, co-ordinator of the permanent diaconate for the Archdiocese of Toronto and head of the Catholic Pan Am chaplaincy team.

“That will be of course very important to (athletes) leading up to their events. The rest of it as far as their needs that we can handle would primarily revolve around just talking and listening because these athletes, especially when you think of Central and South America, this is a big opportunity for them.”

Not only will the chaplains’ presence be important leading up to their competitions, Pitre said he expects many athletes will turn to the chaplains from all faiths following their events as well.

“Someone is going to lose,” he said. “So we are going to be dealing with that on an ongoing basis.”

Soto, who spent a number of years working in Venezuela and surrounding South American countries, knows exactly how he will console the inevitable losers.

“The reality is you have 20 athletes or 30 and only three of them are going to have medals,” he said. “The rest won’t. They will be disappointed and frustrated but the point is to help them to see this is a process for them as an athlete.”

Having spent most of his life following the Pan Ams, and as an amateur athlete himself, Soto said there is one other task he expects to be called upon during the event — one of the duties he looks forward to most.

“Athletes in South America and Central America, they like their equipment and all their things to be blessed before going to competition,” he said.

“For them it is a sign that God is with them. I feel like in that I can give back to the athletes.”

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