Open families, competitors' friendships, ''ministry of presence''
“Fairness in competition” and “friendship between adversaries” During the Mass for the 30th Olympic Games, officiated on July 28 in Westminster’s Cathedral in London, with the apostolic nuncio of the United Kingdom Msgr. Antonio Mennini, the Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, the bishop of Brentwood, Thomas McMahon, the Archbishop of San Juan of Porto Rico, Roberto Gonzales Nieves, along with chaplains of the Olympic teams, including Italy’s Fr Mario LusekArchbishop Vincent Nichols, Catholic Primate of England and Wales, called for God’s blessing that the Olympic games may truly be “fairness in competition, friendship between adversaries, individual achievement and national pride” and not only “enormous and commercial pressures of the sponsors”. For the local Catholic community it was an opportunity to celebrate the major evangelization commitment launched with the competitions: “We can be rightly proud of the part played by the Catholic Church, together with other Churches and faith groups, in exploring and promoting the true spirit of this venture”, said Msgr. Nichols, who reached the altar preceded by an Olympic torch held by the Russian basket player Natasha Hart. On the conclusion of Mass, Fr John Armitage, among the coordinators of Christians’ commitment in the Olympics, recalled that the work conducted in recent months will continue in the “John Paul II Foundation for sport” which is active in the poorest areas of the Country, using sport to help the youth.
Homes open to athletes’ families Homes open to the spouse of an Olympic athlete, for the organization of a neighbourhood festival to improve relations among the various ethnic communities and three tickets for the Olympics. Mr. and Mrs. Sheila and Trevor Joliffe, 70 and 68 respectively, members of the non conformist Evangelical Church of Croydon, south of London, married for 46 years, fully live the spirit of the 30th Olympic games. The front of their house is blanketed with British flags, including one from Mongolia, a tribute to the guest they are looking forward to receive in their home. “From August 4 to 11 the partner of Mongolia’s box champion Tuvshinbat Byamba will be our guest. It is an act of reception that we have organized with the ecumenical charity ‘More than gold’, responsible of an initiative to enable athletes’ relatives who cannot afford the trip to London to be hosted by English families”. “We do it as a service to God, because we are Christian”, Sheila said. “We’re lucky as we had the opportunity of readjusting our attic into an independent guest bedroom with en-suite bathroom”. “The hospitality program ‘Homestay’ has been very successful. There have been requests by 380 relatives of athletes, 500 homes have been opened. Thus the offer exceeded the demand. Not always the hosts are Christian - Trevor said - sometimes there are people who are not Church attendants”. The Joliffes are committed in the local community of the neighbourhood which past August witnessed assaults on stores and other acts of vandalism. “In my opinion the lack of Christian values explains - at least in part - that behaviour”, Sheila said. “There are two-three generations who don’t even know what Christianity is. Poverty doesn’t justify all that they have done. There is a great deal of egoism, especially among the young. Last year the churches organized a wide range of meetings to promote the dialogue among the various ethnic groups”. A large number of foreign citizens live in this area of London, that hosts the immigration centre of the Ministry of Interiors, and the Olympics have become an opportunity to promote better relations between the various local communities. “We organized, together with other churches and faiths, an afternoon of activities for children to coincide with the opening ceremony of the Games - Trevor says - with a barbecue and large screens on which to watch the opening cerimony. We expected 400 people but we have had over 600”. Mr and Mrs Jolliffe follow the Olympic Games, notably table tennis, women's football and horse races, “the sports we love. In two days - they conclude- we applied for tickets and we were able to obtain them. With them we also had the opportunity to use the subway for free. We think that the organization is functioning well, at least for the moment”.
Ex comedian, now Olympic chaplain The commitment of Frankie Mulgrew, 34, a deacon who serves as chaplain in the Olympic Village, has distant origins. “I’m the son of a very famous comedian in the UK, Jimmy Cricket. I was an actor myself, and I am well familiar with the pressure of having to meet the audience’s expectations. So four years ago I told myself that I could help Olympic athletes that are experiencing a similar situation. They have everything the world deems necessary for happiness, money and fame. But this doesn’t always include the peace and happiness bestowed by the Lord”. Mulgrew described his commitment with the world champions in London as a “ministry of presence”. “During the two weeks of formation that preceded the opening of the Games we were told that our commitment consisted in a reassuring presence, without invading athletes’ privacy, who are often completely absorbed by the athletic competitions. We must be available and seek to support them and help them just with our presence. A large number of athletes and coaches - Mulgrew said - attend the Mass officiated twice a day in the inter-religious centre of the Olympic village, where Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism each have their own place of worship”. “The atmosphere in the Olympic village is fantastic - he concludes - and I consider myself very lucky for the opportunity of living this experience”.