Catholic athletics organization key to making Catholics welcome in sports
Christianity is heavily present in American professional sports, at least the Protestant denominations are. Catholics, meanwhile, can often feel attacked or unwelcome by their fellow Christian-athletes.
Mike Sweeny played for Kansas City from 1995-2007.
LOS ANGELES CA (Catholic Online) -- Ray McKenna founded Catholic Athletes for Christ in 2006 in response to the perceived lack of organizations dedicated to Catholic athletes.
Originally, this nonprofit organization was dedicated to serving Catholic athletes in the MLB. Then it branched into the NFL and other professional sports before including Olympic, college, and high-school athletes.
According to their website, CAC is designed to serve Catholic athletes in both their athletic and everyday lives, primarily by providing a network of Catholic athletes, coaches, and staff, and clergy and laypeople. They also strive to provide Catholic role models and reverse the moral crisis in sports today.
McKenna originally worked with Baseball Chapel, a Protestant organization similar to CAC that focused on baseball, where he first encountered anti-Catholic prejudice. McKenna stayed in spite of his issue with that organization because he felt it was worth the problems to spread the word of God to athletes.
Eventually he had to leave that organization after hearing a former Catholic MLB player criticize the church at a nondenominational ministry conference.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register, McKenna recalled that incident. "That was the most heartbreaking moment for me. I had heard negative things before then, but in that presentation, the Church's positions were so distorted that you couldn't even recognize what he was talking about. It was then that I really started to think in earnest about starting a distinctly Catholic organization in pro sports."
Former Kansas City Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney also attended the same conference with McKenna, and experienced many of the same anti-Catholic prejudices.
Sweeney is chairman of the CAC's Athlete Advisory Board and enjoys the annual CAC Baseball Retreat where he said he's nourished spiritually by his fellow Catholics. During the Nov. 19-21, 2013 retreat, Sweeney held a presentation on the role of the Virgin Mary in the lives of Christians.
"She is the first Christian, the ideal Christian, and the Christian who brings Christ to all Christians," Sweeny told the Register.
Californian native and pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, Justin De Fratus also credits McKenna and CAC for helping his Catholic faith grow, and connecting him with other Catholic professional athletes.
"When I first started in pro ball, you'd think everyone on the team was either a Protestant or just nonreligious. You wouldn't even know who the Catholics were." De Fratus has also been attending the CAC retreats, starting in 2012.
While CAC and McKenna have been incredibly active in the past year, he already has upcoming projects for 2014, including the NFL Combine Mass and the inaugural NFL Retreat.
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