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Winning a place for religion in sport


With the Paris Olympics rapidly approaching, a timely statement has been published by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference on the opportunity that sport presents for an encounter with Jesus.

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Called Open the Way to Christ, Fostering a Pastoral Ministry of Sport, the statement was prepared over the past 12 months by the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry   with the help of a team of experts.

It examines the place of sport in Australia, the strong connection between sport and the Catholic Church in Australia, the opportunity for all people to be involved in sport in some way, and the potential that sport has to develop character and aid in the growth of virtue.

“The connection between sport and faith in Australia has been more visible in recent times, with elite athletes seen praying on the field a­­nd others speaking openly about their faith,” the document says.

“At the local level, many parents and guardians are generously giving their time and talents to volunteer at sporting clubs, and in doing so, are actively living out their faith and witnessing to the Gospel.

“Further, those who play sport can bear witness to their faith by exemplifying values such as fair play, teamwork, respect for others and sacrifice.”

Accompanying the statement is a range of resources for parishes. They include testimonies from people involved in sport in various capacities, highlighting their love of sport and the role that prayer plays in their athletic endeavours.

For example, 2016 Olympic Gold medalist Chloe Esposito (modern pentathalon) says that “before, during and after competition, I’ve always prayed to God for His guidance, help and protection”.

“Prayer has helped me to remain grounded and to keep things in perspective, knowing that winning isn’t everything,” she says.

Damien Schumann, 2018 Commonwealth Games Gold Medalist (beach volleyball) also speaks about praying before every match and asking God to “help me honour him by giving my best with the gifts he gave me, and leaving the results in his hands”.

“Prayer has been a great way to calm my nerves before competing and to reaffirm that I just have to do my best,” he says.

Stephen Lawrence, 1991 Hawthorn premiership player, says in his 12 years of AFL football, prayer played an integral part in his preparation.

“Jesus is Lord of everything, after all! When traveling interstate for matches, I always made the effort to get to Mass on Sundays, and prayed for the grace to use my gifts to the best of my ability, to stay uninjured, and to act with integrity as a witness to my teammates,” Lawrence says.

The statement says for many Australians, sport will always be a secular endeavour. However, for many others sport can be seen through a theological or religious lens as a “profound opportunity for its participants to express their full humanity by articulating and strengthening some fundamental aspects of human identity”.

“Sport and religion each provide people with a strong sense of identity, providing a place of community, a sense of belonging and hope for the future,” it says.

“Like faith, sport can be transformational for the participant, spectator, volunteer and administrator, instilling and developing character and moral virtues. These can include humility (always accepting officials’ decisions, winning without boasting and acknowledging defeat graciously), justice (playing fairly and in an ethical spirit) and fortitude (persevering even when victory seems unlikely).”

Archbishop Christopher Prowse, chair of the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry, said both the sporting field and Catholic parishes are “places of encounter”.

“They offer a space to teach and accompany people – young and old – in their relationship with Jesus,” he said.

View the statement and resources at Open the Way to Christ (

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