“We work to support athletes by providing them the Sacraments and once they are properly catechized and formed we encourage them and try to promote them to go out and try to share the Good News, to share their faith as applied in their sport and that's our evangelization component,” Ray McKenna told CNA in an Oct. 20 interview.
McKenna is the founder and president of Catholic Athletes for Christ, which was formed as a response to Bl. John Paul II's call to evangelize the world of sports.
Speaking if the organization's close collaboration with the Vatican's Office for Sports, McKenna stressed that “some of the fruits are there's interest in sports and the Church's perspective on sports.”
“One of the things we wish to share is the rich teaching history of the Church and many people are unaware of that,” he noted, recalling how St. Paul, who whom they refer to as “the first sports writer,” spoke used the analogies of a “prize fight, a race,” and “running for an eternal crown.”
The organization's president also reflected on the “brilliant, excellent, explication” from many different Pope's on the subject of the theology of sports, beginning with an encyclical of Pius XII in which he spoke “beautifully” about “the proper interaction between the body, mind and the soul.”
“Sadly,” he noted, “a lot of people just look at it as a pursuit of the body.”
McKenna also spoke of retired pontiff Benedict XVI, stressing that he “has given one of the most beautiful, I think, discussions of why sports is important,” which is interesting because the former Pope “is not an athlete per se.”
Recalling how during his papacy Benedict was asked in an audience why sports are important to God, Mckenna noted that the pontiff's response was that “Yes God cares about sports because God cares about man and man cares about sports. So anything that is important to man is important to God.”
“Man is created by God the Father, created in the image of God, recreated by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and daily renewed by the Holy Spirit,” McKenna stated, paraphrasing the words of the former Pope.
“So the Trinitarian approach of the Church to sports, and then obviously the next logical step is that sports should reflect also...man properly understood and therefore God.”
As for Pope Francis' take on the matter, the organization's president drew attention to the fact that he constantly emphasizes the need for the Church to “go into the culture and engage the culture,” stressing that this is part of the mission of Catholic Athletes for Christ.
“What we do is to go share the Good News in a pro-active way.”
Often in the secular world, especially within sports, McKenna noted that the Church's teachings are viewed as “black and white and condemning.”
He urged that a big part of the mission of his organization is to show that “the Church's teachings are much more beautiful and richer than that,” stressing that “they give you is a new perspective on life, a new way of life,” which “can get lost if it's a simplistic understanding of rights and wrongs as opposed to a holistic understanding of the human person as engaged in sports.”
As a means of attaining this holistic care, Catholic Athletes for Christ provides to opportunity for their players to receive the Sacraments, primarily Mass and confessions, at their sporting venues.
Proudly announcing new initiatives within the organization, McKenna highlighted a new diocesan-wide high school program which will be launching in the diocese of Trenton, N.J. under Bishop David O'Connell.
“We're really excited,” he said, “our first focus was on the professional athlete, then the Olympic athlete, the collegiate athlete, and now we have something to offer” for younger athletes.
In light of recent events at the Vatican honoring the bond of sports and faith, one catholic organization revealed their goal to both evangelize through sports, as well as form athletes on an integral level.