In Adelaide this Good Friday, for the first time there will be five South Australian National Football League (SANFL) games played rather than the usual one or two. And the first will start at 1pm, or earlier for juniors and reserves, rather than early evening when it was considered less disruptive to religious worship.
There are only two AFL games – in the late afternoon and at night – but they involve a lot more people than the local footy competition when it comes to the players and support teams, venue staff, security, public transport workers and of course, the tens of thousands of fans.
I fully understand that Christian and religious worship does not have the same standing it once had and that a decline in practising Catholics puts the Church in a difficult negotiating position.
But I do wonder if the general public is ready to go one step further and give up entirely on the most important ‘holyday’ on the Christian calendar. I’m sure the general populous would not be too keen on losing their public holiday on Good Friday and the opportunity for a four-day break. Imagine the outcry if we gave up on Easter Sunday and the public holiday on Monday as well.
It seems a little hypocritical for people to say that religion doesn’t matter anymore and yet they happily enjoy the public holidays associated with Christianity.
We live in a very multicultural society in Australia and are blessed to live harmoniously and respectfully with people from many different cultures and religions. But I am sure people of faiths other than Christianity would be the first to acknowledge that the welcoming and inclusive values of Australian society are closely connected to the Christian element of our development as a modern nation.
It is a short history compared to the Indigenous culture and ownership of our ancient land but many Aboriginal people have also been influenced by the waves of Christian migration that have swept through our country over the past 200 plus years. (Christians, I should add, have much to learn from Aboriginal spirituality.)
I am a realist when it comes to thinking that we will one day return to the Good Friday of old when everything was closed – although I am sure many would relish the opportunity to switch off from the world for just one day of the year.But I would like to see a little more recognition of why we have a four- day Easter break, whether it be the odd mention by an AFL media commentator or a blessing at a local footy game. Perhaps a minute’s silence at 3pm, when we Christians solemnly remember that Christ died for us on the cross?
I know one former high ranking official of the Adelaide Crows who just happens to be Catholic and was keen to have a Christian ritual included in the program for a Crows Good Friday game. That might not have gone down well with non-believing Crows fans or diehard Catholics opposed to any game on Good Friday, but it might just have got people talking about why we celebrate Easter.
It would also make it easier for a player or worker who feels uncomfortable plying his or her trade on this sacred day to at least take a moment to pray.
The topic of blessings before sporting events came up in a recent conversation with John Lochowiak from the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, who regularly performs Welcome to Country at all sorts of events. With three sons playing football for Sturt in the SANFL, he agreed that one way for the Church to engage with more people would be to have some sort of religious or spiritual ritual before major sporting events.
He pointed out that it was quite common to see American gridiron or baseball players pray in a very public way before a match.
There has been a long tradition of chaplains blessing more dangerous sporting events such as horse races and motor sports, so why not extend this to all sport played on Good Friday and other days of Christian significance. It could be similar to services performed for Anzac day and Indigenous round football games. We can but dream.
In the meantime, the team at The Southern Cross wishes all our readers a happy, holy and safe Easter.
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