Archive of December 4, 2011

Catholic sports league promotes character development, not just game skills

Phoenix, Ariz., Dec 4, 2011 (CNA) - Late in the championship game for “big” schools, eighth-grader Alex Pierre collided with his opponent in the end zone.

Both landed in the dry grass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale, Ariz., a neutral site. As soon as Pierre got up, he instinctively offered his hand to his opponent and helped him up. Neither was injured.

“It’s just a common courtesy to the other team,” Pierre, a halfback and wide receiver for Ss. Simon and Jude said. “I always pick them up if they’re down.”

Pierre, who also plays club football and basketball, said joining a Catholic school team was a way to grow spiritually and physically with his friends.

Teammate Peter Stalzer, quarterback and tight end, was sure to tell his opponents “good job,” even if the pass fell incomplete. They still tried their best, Stalzer quickly defended.

The Ss. Simon and Jude players, who finished second in the tournament Oct. 31, are among 300 football players and more than 1,000 girl volleyball players who strived to embrace the same philosophy during the fall Catholic Youth Athletic Association season. Promoting a Christian atmosphere and selfless effort are at the core of the organization for more than 20 years.

“Good sportsmanship is a constant, ongoing goal,” said Gary Coffman, boys athletic director of the CYAA.

It’s something he drills into his coaches as much as three times a year because each new season can bring a slate of new volunteer parent coaches. Maggie Wirth just finished her second season coaching girls volleyball for Christ the King in Mesa. She enjoys the Christianity of the league, especially the pre-game prayer that gathers both teams in the same circle.

“It teaches the girls we’re children of God. We’re all in this together, win or lose,” Wirth said.

She even found herself calling another coach after a tournament game to apologize for having their differences earlier. Wirth said it’s important for parents and coaches to set the right example.

Coffman couldn’t agree more. At the same time, he knows after seven years as athletic director and a lifetime as a player or coach, that players often find ways to be their own example.

Take, for instance, the eighth-grade volleyball team at St. Jerome. The Falcons essentially rooted for every opponent this season, a first for them. The girls made posters for each home match that read, “Good luck” and added the school’s name. They also offered them snacks.

“We want to have a good impact on the other team and to make sure they know we’re not bad people and won’t say bad things to them,” explained Faith Kaylor, a setter.

St. Louis the King’s volleyball team sent them a letter after their matchup earlier this year. It said the Falcons, who finished fourth in the “small” school tournament, had the best sportsmanship they’ve seen.

Mary Grace Blaser, a seventh-grader at Christ the King, found that the sportsmanship is better in Catholic sports. Her teammates agreed. They said that while opponents at the club level might wish each other luck before a game, it’s more heartfelt in CYAA.

The teams care about their win/loss record, Coffman said, but the idea of representing the school predominates. He said that’s critical for athletes to embrace as they advance in school.

The Cougars at Christ the King keep the school and faith they represent in mind with every volley. They end every time out chat chanting, “In Jesus’ name we play!”

Printed with permission from the Catholic Sun, newspaper for the Diocese of Phoenix, Ariz.

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Guadalupe visionary St. Juan Diego honored Dec. 9

Denver, Colo., Dec 4, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Dec. 9, Roman Catholics celebrate St. Juan Diego, the indigenous Mexican Catholic convert whose encounter with the Virgin Mary began the Church's devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In 1474, 50 years before receiving the name Juan Diego at his baptism, a boy named Cuauhtlatoatzin—“singing eagle”—was born in the Anahuac Valley of present-day Mexico. Though raised according to the Aztec pagan religion and culture, he showed an unusual and mystical sense of life even before hearing the Gospel from Franciscan missionaries.

In 1524, Cuauhtlatoatzin and his wife converted and entered the Catholic Church. The farmer now known as Juan Diego was committed to his faith, often walking long distances to receive religious instruction. In 1531, he would be the recipient of a world-changing miracle.

On Dec. 9, Juan Diego was hurrying to Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. But the woman he was heading to church to celebrate, came to him instead.

In the native Aztec dialect, the radiant woman announced herself as the “ever-perfect holy Mary, who has the honor to be the mother of the true God.”

“I am your compassionate Mother, yours and that of all the people that live together in this land,” she continued, “and also of all the other various lineages of men.”

She asked Juan Diego to make a request of the local bishop. “I want very much that they build my sacred little house here”—a house dedicated to her son Jesus Christ, on the site of a former pagan temple, that would “show him” to all Mexicans and “exalt him” throughout the world.

She was asking a great deal of a native farmer. Not surprisingly, his bold request met with skepticism from Bishop Juan de Zumárraga. But Juan Diego said he would produce proof of the apparition, after he finished tending to his uncle whose death seemed imminent.

Making his way to church on Dec. 12, to summon a priest for his uncle, Juan Diego again encountered the Blessed Virgin. She promised to cure his uncle and give him a sign to display for the bishop. On the hill where they had first met he would find roses and other flowers, though it was winter.

Doing as she asked, he found the flowers and brought them back to her. The Virgin Mary then placed the flowers inside his tilma, the traditional garment he had been wearing. She told him not to unwrap the tilma containing the flowers, until he had reached the bishop.

When he did, Bishop Zumárraga had his own encounter with Our Lady of Guadalupe – through the image of her that he found miraculously imprinted on the flower-filled tilma. The Mexico City basilica that now houses the tilma has become, by some estimates, the world's most-visited Catholic shrine.

The miracle that brought the Gospel to millions of Mexicans also served to deepen Juan Diego's own spiritual life. For many years after the experience, he lived a solitary life of prayer and work in a hermitage near the church where the image was first displayed. Pilgrims had already begun flocking to the site by the time he died on Dec. 9, 1548, the anniversary of the first apparition.

Blessed John Paul II beatified St. Juan Diego in 1990, and canonized him in 2002.

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Vatican's Gaudi exhibition proves popular

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - An exhibition exploring the art, science and spirituality of Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia Basilica is proving to be a popular winter attraction for visitors to the Vatican.
“The exhibition is so beautifully done,” said Fr. Anthony Kelly visiting from Melbourne, Australia.

“The church itself is an incredible exercise of imagination and the exhibit uses space incredibly well. It really captures the imagination I think,” he told CNA on Dec. 2.

The Basilica of La Sagrada Familia—which is Catalan for “The Holy Family”—is the creation of the Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). His innovative blend of Gothic and Art Nouveau styling that comes to life in the basilica is regarded as one of the modern architectural wonders of the world.

Still under construction, the church was finally consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Nov. 2010.

Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona described the exhibition to CNA as “another of the contributions of Christian faith which the Church has made over the centuries to the world of culture, art and beauty.”

He recalled how Pope Benedict had described the church during his visit as “a visible sign of the invisible God.” It is something, the Pope said, that is “so necessary in our Western European societies with their prevailing secular culture and religious indifference.”

Gaudi himself was converted through his work on the church. His subsequent life of devotion, which included daily Mass, earned him the moniker of “God’s architect.” He died on June 7, 1926 after being struck by a tram on his way to confession. His cause of beatification is currently underway.

“Gaudi was a Christian in word and in action,” said Cardinal Sistach.

“We must see him not just as an architectural genius but above all as an exemplary Christian. Let us all pray to the Lord that a miracle may come about through Gaudi’s intercession, that he may be declared a blessed.”

The Vatican exhibition is divided into three sections that denote the art, science and spirituality of Gaudi’s creation.

The first section, “immerses visitors in the aesthetics of Gaudi, surrounding them with his colors, forms, spaces and the various artistic techniques he used in his works,” said curator Daniel Giralt-Miracle.
The second section examines the engineering involved in the creation of the building, while the third explores “the direct allusions to the Christian religion which Gaudi included in his church.”

The Vatican exhibition is entitled “Gaudi and the ‘Sagrada Familia’ of Barcelona; Art, Science and Spirituality,” and is organized by, among others, the Pontifical Council for Culture. It is housed in the Charlemagne Wing of Bernini’s colonnade that surrounds St. Peter’s Square and is open to the public until Jan. 15, 2012. Entry is free.

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Pope Benedict: Advent is a time for self-examination, repentance

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI used his Sunday Angelus remarks to encourage Christians to embrace self-examination and repentance during Advent.
“As we prepare for Christmas, it is important that we find time for self-contemplation and carry out an honest assessment of our lives,” he told thousands of pilgrims in a rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square Dec. 4.
“May we be enlightened by a ray of the light that comes from Bethlehem, the light of he who is ‘the greatest’ and made himself small, he who is ‘the strongest’ but became weak.”
The Pope focused upon the historical figure at the center of today’s gospel passage, Saint John the Baptist. He noted how the gospel presents John as “a very ascetic figure dressed in camel skin” who feeds on locusts and wild honey in the desert of Judea. John’s appearance was such that Jesus once contrasted him with those who wear fine clothing in royal palaces, the Pope noted.
“The style of John the Baptist was meant to call all Christians to choose a sober lifestyle, especially in preparation for the feast of Christmas,” said the Pope. Christmas is “when the Lord, as Saint Paul would say, ‘became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich’.”
John’s mission “was an extraordinary appeal to conversion,” the Pope explained. John’s baptism was tied to “a fiery invitation to a new way of thinking and acting,” and, above all, “to the announcement of God's justice.”
“Therefore, John’s appeal goes far beyond and deeper than a call to a sober lifestyle: it is a call for inner change, starting with the recognition and confession of our sins.”
St. Peter’s Square itself is also preparing for Christmas. Its traditional nativity scene is currently being built in the center of the square and will be inaugurated on Dec. 24.
Tomorrow will see the Vatican Christmas tree erected next to the square’s central obelisk. The 100-foot-tall spruce is a gift to the Pope from the people of the Zakarpattia region of Ukraine.  It will be decorated in lights and blessed on Dec. 16.
The Pope concluded his address by entrusting the Advent journey “towards the Lord who comes,” to the intercession of Mary, “the virgin who awaits,” as we “prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us.”

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