When these players take the court for the Lord, it's a full court press.'Buckets with the Bishop' and 'DC Hood' Examples of Evangelization and Sportsmanship.
ALLENTOWN, PA. (Catholic Online) - There's nothing unusual about Catholic children learning basketball skills at a CYO clinic. But when the instructor is also their bishop, their game is brought to a much higher level.
Young athletes in the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania received such an opportunity last month. Bishop John Barres, a former junior varsity player at Princeton University, offered "Buckets with the Bishop" to a packed gymnasium in Frackville. Bishop Barres not only imparted basketball knowledge, he helped participants find connections between sports and Catholic faith.
"I believe that a team sport like basketball teaches young people sacrifice, leadership and generosity," he told Catholic News Agency, "all qualities that are key to the building up of a vibrant Catholic Church. I found in basketball when I dedicated practice, drills, basketball camps and games to Christ, the experience became so much richer."
Bishop Barres embraces the rich potential of sports as a venue to spread the Gospel. With so many of the flock passionately involved as players or fans--especially youth--its fields are ripe for the harvest.
He recently joined the Episcopal Advisory Board of Catholic Athletes for Christ as a way of helping to advance this vital and vibrant mission.
"I believe strongly," he said, "that a Catholic athlete, whether he or she is learning to dribble a basketball or whether he or she is playing in the NBA/WNBA, can connect their basketball experience to personal prayer, love for the Eucharist and the Bible, love for Mary and a missionary spirit to light the world on fire with their Catholic faith."
In the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, a basketball team comprised of priests and seminarians has adopted a specialized cause in this mission--promoting vocations to priesthood and religious life. Called "DC 'Hood" (short for priesthood), the squad travels the archdiocese challenging teams from local parishes. Each game includes a halftime vocations talk by people who have responded to the call.
Fr. Greg Shaffer, founder of DC 'Hood, has seen spectacular results since the team began in 2005."The turnout of parents and kids is still amazing," he told Catholic Online. "We still average about 200 people at our games. The spirit and support they bring to priests and seminarians has been impressive and much appreciated."
The halftime vocation talks have been a key component of DC 'Hood events. Usually given by priests or seminarians, they have reached many young people and their parents.
"I've heard back from them some of the comments made in the halftime talks," Fr. Shaffer remarked. "At our last game, we had one of our players speak at halftime, a priest of Washington, and a religious Sister. The Sister, a member of the Servants of the Lord, gathered kids at mid-court to speak about life as a Sister. How cool for them to see a woman in a habit who is full of life and joy!"
The team also distributes DC 'Hood t-shirts at halftime; Fr. Shaffer said the kids really like them, and he often sees them when he attends different Catholic events around the area.
Summing up his experience with the team, Fr. Shaffer noted: "Overall, the best thing to come about from DC 'Hood games, in my opinion, has been a cultural shift about the priesthood. Thanks be to God, approximately 10,000 people have attended our games, many of whom have walked away with a different and more positive image of priests as normal, athletic and holy. That's the main focus of our ministry - to let people see that priests are normal men who can be athletes. We're ordinary men who are called to extraordinary things in and for Jesus Christ!"
In addition to that success, they're not too bad on the court, either."We're on a roll," said Fr. Shaffer. "We've won all our games except one since last year--eight of nine, I think."
DC 'Hood has enjoyed a geographical rivalry with a similar team from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, called "Men in Black," and have played them at the Verizon Center, home of the NBA's Washington Wizards.
For Catholics who also love basketball, this is a wonderful time of year: the beginning of "March Madness," and the approach of Holy Week. Bishop Barres, DC 'Hood, Men in Black, Catholic Athletes for Christ and all who promote evangelization through sports have set an example of how all our pursuits ultimately point to the glory of God. Catholics can follow their example by enjoying the game while puttting it in this holy perspective.
James Penrice is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and the author of numerous books. He is also a writer for 'Catholic Athletes for Christ'.
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