More than Gold: Catholics representing in more ways than one at the London Olympics

July 27, 2012

Today, across  the Atlantic in one of Europe’s most storied cities, marks the beginning of the 2012 Olympics, where crowds are cheering, blind archers are making history, and the US flag is being carried by an alum of my school, the University of Notre Dame.

Olympic Fencer Mariel Zagunis, representing the USA and ND at once.

Zagunis’ selection as Team USA’s flagbearer is definitely an honor for Zagunis, and for Notre Dame — still the preeminent Catholic school in the US.  But in a sense, it also symbolizes the imprint the Catholic Church is making on these Olympics.

Catholic schools, for one, are being represented well.  A pair of teen swimming prodigies from Guam and Maryland are students at Catholic high schools, while a Brazilian vollyeball star says she learned many of her values from her Salesian education.

Pilar Shimizu, 16, a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School, is the youngest ever-athlete to represent Guam.

Katie Ledecky, 15, who will be a sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart this fall, has broken Olympic Trial records.

Maria Antonelli, 28, graduated from the St. Joseph Institute in Resende. She and Talita Antunes da Rocha are the 5th-ranked women’s volleyball pairing in the world.

Across the world, Catholic athletes are invoking patron saints to guide them as they compete, like the Filipinos, who are carrying San Pedro Calungsod as their intercessor for the Games.

The Catholic Church is sending more than just athletes to the Games, though.  Not only do the competitors have Sports Bibles offered to them and former athletes as their chaplains…The Catholic bishops of London, in a program called “More than Gold,” are urging Catholic families to open up their homes to the families of athletes in an effort to keep Olympians’ families close and together — certainly a refreshing and welcome effort to support families, after news that the London Olympics Committee provided athletes with 150,000 condoms (with more to arrive upon demand) for the duration of the Games.

Fr. Hilton, a former badminton, rugby, and soccer player, and a current professional bowler, will serve as a chaplain to the Olympians this year.  Who says the Church isn’t into sports?

Keep an eye out for these Catholics as the Games progress.  The Olympics — a worldwide competition — shows how the Catholic Church is indeed still a worldwide institution.


Five quick (Catholic) thoughts on the Fortnight for Freedom

June 25, 2012

If you’re Catholic, you probably have heard about the Fortnight for Freedom declared by the US Bishops last Thursday (and if not, here‘s a friendly reminder :)).  And whether you’re Catholic or not, you likely have heard about the controversy over the Federal Government’s healthcare mandate that employers provide contraception and family planning to employees — even if it violates the employers’ conscience.  You might also have heard about certain “compromises” being offered by the government, but these are more acts of lip-service and public image than they are actual concessions:  Numerous Catholic (and other religious) organizations remain nonexempt.

Whatever way you look at it, this is governmental compulsion that violates religious liberty:  An employer should be free not to provide contraception if she is morally opposed to it, especially if she is being required to pay for it.  Contraception is not a health care need, and if the employees don’t like that, they can switch jobs.  (This is like forcing Jews to serve pork at a restaurant or Muslims to serve alcohol at their weddings.)

Religious liberty is a fundamental right.  The right to worship and follow our religion’s teachings is as much a right as the right to life.

That’s why many people — Catholics, Protestants, faithful religious, and other people of good will — are taking a stand.  (Check out the video above to get an idea of this…it’s pretty stirring.)  The US Bishops are leading the way, and they have declared 14 days for Catholics to discuss, study, advocate for, and pray for the preservation of religious liberty in America.

Anyway, it’s the 5th night of the Fortnight, so I thought I’d offer 5 quick thoughts on the Fortnight for Freedom.  Only skims the surface of the issue, but hopefully it can get you thinking — and praying — too.

  • I may be new to Catholic history in America, but I can’t think of another time when a reaction like this happened on such a wide-scale: across the nation, on every level from bishops to laypeople, and with every just means available (legal, educational, political, prayer).  Yes, Catholics are far from a united front, but this may be the closest we’ve been to one in recent memory.  Maybe. (More on this thought from Catholic Online.)
  • Not only that, but other Christians, religious, and people of good will are coming together to stand against the tide of statist secularism in defense of religious liberty.  (Word on Fire‘s Fr. Barron discusses this here…learn some English history while you’re at it!)
  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states on its website that the Fortnight of Freedom is a “special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action.”  Note that “prayer” comes first, because that’s where all our efforts should start.  We’re nothing without God.
  • As religious liberty is a fundamental right, Catholics have always been committed to its defense throughout history.  In fact, in the early years, Catholics may have been more committed to freedom of religion in America than the first “Americans.”
  • Be careful.  The coming assault on the church won’t be like what you saw in For Greater Glory, with priests killed and churches ransacked.  Rather, it’s going to be very PC, very subtle, in which Catholics who resist will be portrayed as “insane zealots” while Catholics who stand by idly or, worse, support the mandate, will be portrayed as restrained and rational by the media and government.  Read Fr. Longenecker’s reflection on this here.

Even with that last point in mind, it’s important that we keep hope!  And keep praying!  Pray for our rights.  Pray for our bishops, our priests, our religious, and all members of our Church.  Pray for our allies, our political leaders, and our nation.  Pray for peace, justice, goodness, and above all, pray for Truth.  So pray!  And pray hard, because there remains a nation’s heart to be won.

Our Lady of Victory, pray for us!


Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,

Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.