Vancouver church is ready for the world

By 
  • February 11, 2010
{mosimage}As February dawned the Games were already on for British Columbia Catholics getting ready to welcome Olympic athletes, media and fans for the XXI Winter Games.

“I was in the athletes’ village this morning, just making sure everything is set up for Mass tomorrow morning,” Msgr. Jerry Desmond told The Catholic Register  just days before the opening ceremonies.

As the local parish priest in Whistler, Desmond is ready to provide all kinds of chaplaincy services to the horde of visitors the Games will bring.

With the help of a visiting Austrian priest, and a retired priest covering for him in a native community north of Whistler, Desmond will offer daily Mass at the multifaith centre in the athletes village, an anticipated Sunday Mass on Saturday evenings plus Sunday morning Mass. All that is in addition to regular Masses at Our Lady of the Mountains in Whistler itself.

Of course, being a chaplain will require much more than saying Mass, said Desmond. He will be available for confessions, spiritual direction and to help in case of an emergency.

“I don’t anticipate a whole lot, but what’s important is that the church be there for them in their need,” said Desmond.

While Desmond deals with athletes up in the mountains, the archdiocese of Vancouver is prepared for the crush of visitors in the city. The archdiocese has contributed a storefront space on the ground floor of its curia offices to the ecumenical “More than Gold” program of radical hospitality.

“We’re in the heart of everything, pretty much,” said Patrick Gillespie of the archdiocese’s office of evangelization. “We can step out of our door and we’re pretty much at the door of BC Place, where the opening ceremonies are going to be.”

From hot chocolate to a little time on a computer to check e-mail, the archdiocesan Welcome Centre aims to greet visitors with an open heart.

Visitors can also find out when Mass times are at Holy Rosary Cathedral, plus Ash Wednesday services Feb. 17 at about the halfway point in the Feb. 12-28 Games.

“As Christians, why would we not do that? Offering hot chocolate, a chance to come inside?” Gillespie asked.

While archdiocese staff are going to try to keep hard at work, volunteers are coming in from around the city to staff the Welcome Centre, said Gillespie.

While the Olympics represent a chance for the church in Vancouver to be welcoming for two weeks, they may represent a more lasting change in Whistler. The Olympic Village in Whistler will become Cheekamus Crossing, a new neighbourhood of affordable housing in a town notorious for its million-dollar, mostly-empty ski chalets.

“What about the people who are working here?” asks Desmond. “How do you make it affordable for people to be here?”

A few modest homes people can buy or rent on a regular salary will help build up the community around Our Lady of the Mountains, said Desmond. And for the first time in Whistler’s short history the post-Games athletes’ village will provide some seniors’ housing.

Our Lady of the Mountains has about 70 families on its parish list. But on any given Sunday it plays host to visitors from around the world. The Catholic church is the only denominationally owned building in Whistler, where most churches have found it too expensive to build.

Though he’s going to be busy, Desmond is hoping to get in a little skiing for himself during the Games.

“I’ve only skied 20 or 30 times this year — not very good,” he said.

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