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'Catholic Athletes for Christ' Brings its A-Game

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Dynamic, Catholic Sports Movement spreads the faith and promotes the Church as the ultimate team.

Highlights

By James Penrice
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
2/27/2009 (1 decade ago)

Published in Sports

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Catholic Online) - "This is my body, which will be given up for you."

The words that instituted the Eucharist also proclaim the mission of every athlete. Sacrificing one's body for the good of someone and something beyond oneself is Eucharistic; athletes fed by the Body of Christ train and compete in Him, through Him and with Him.

This good news that sports are holy, even Eucharistic at their core, is quickly spreading through the athletic world. Catholic Athletes for Christ (CAC) is in the vanguard of this evangelization effort.

Founded in 2006 by Ray McKenna, a Washington DC attorney and sports chaplain, CAC provides a Catholic presence in sports ministry, which is predominantly served by Protestant and non-denominational programs. It was also inspired by Pope John Paul II's call to evangelize the world of athletics, and his establishment in 2004 of the Vatican Office of Church and Sports.

CAC's roster of "Cathletes" is large and constantly growing. Serving on advisory boards or the speakers' bureau are eight bishops, several priests, and over fifty professional and collegiate athletes, coaches and broadcasters. They represent Major League Baseball, the NFL, NHL, Indy Racing, the Olympics, tennis, soccer, softball, and figure skating. A web site (www.catholicathletesforchrist.com) offers a wealth of sports-oriented spiritual resources, as well as updates on members and their activities.

Ambitious game plan

CAC's outreach projects are numerous. A nation-wide network of Catholic sports chaplains brings the sacraments to various athletic venues. CAC offers an annual baseball conference and retreat, a long weekend of inspirational talks, prayer, liturgy and fellowship open to athletes of all sports. They have offered Mass and a luncheon at the Super Bowl, a luncheon after Pope Benedict's Mass at Nationals Park in 2008 (as well as a strong presence at his White House welcome ceremony), an outreach to athletes at the annual NFL combine, participation in the annual March for Life in Washington, DC and Vatican conferences on sports and faith, and a presence at many other gatherings of athletes and coaches across the country.

A major turning point for the young organization was its first annual Baseball Conference in November of 2007, which was attended by athletes from many sports. Several attendees noted that it was this conference that turned individual members into a team.

"The conference was very exciting and eye-opening," said former NFL wide-receiver Chris Horn. "It showed me how much of an impact we can have using sports as a platform to share Jesus." Horn said that before the conference CAC members had witnessed their faith individually, but now they realize what they can accomplish as a body. "I don't know if anyone knew what to expect," he said. "The Holy Spirit took over the conference, inspiring us to jump on board and to use the platform we have been blessed with."

Terry Kennedy was not sure what to expect, either. The four-time Major League Baseball All-Star came to check out CAC; he left as a new member, having signed on for the advisory board and speakers bureau. "I wish we had something like this when I played," said the former San Diego Padre. He joined to help CAC grow more fully into the ministry it can potentially become. Kennedy noted that so far the bulk of the work had fallen to a small core group of organizers, especially CAC founder Ray McKenna. "Everyone at the conference is willing to do what they need to do to help," Kennedy said. "Hopefully we can take some of the pressure off [the CAC organizers]. This can be even more far ranging than they realize."

Getting schooled

A major goal of CAC's evangelical mission was accomplished in the fall of 2008 with the establishment of their first college chapter. Student athletes at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC have embraced this unique opportunity to grow together in faith, and have already made tremendous strides in making their CAC chapter a vital component of faith life on campus.

Fr. Bob Schlageter, OFM Conv., the head of Campus Ministry at CUA, saw the need for a specialized outreach to athletes, whose busy schedules often prevent them from participating in Campus Ministry activities. After first considering the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Fr. Bob felt compelled to search for something with a specifically Catholic identity. He found CAC through an online search, and was immediately enthused about its potential.

Fr. Bob introduced the CAC website to Patrick Quintana, captain of CUA's baseball team, who shared Fr. Bob's excitement. Quintana had been concerned about the spiritual welfare of his fellow athletes. "So many athletes are on the fence about their faith," he said. "Something like Catholic Athletes for Christ may be their only avenue for spiritual direction, since it is difficult to be involved in Campus Ministry because they're so busy."

The chapter has written its own mission statement, which reflects the mission of CAC as a whole: "The mission of Catholic Athletes for Christ is to spread Christianity throughout the athletic community, develop the character of our athletes, and build relationships based on a common interest in Christ. We aim to reach out to our fellow athletes and create a comfortable, approachable atmosphere for spiritual growth."

Catholic University's CAC chapter is the start of what they hope will be a nation-wide network of college chapters.

"I wish CAC had existed when I was younger, "said Lauren Bauer, a former collegiate and professional softball player and CAC advisory board member and speaker. "It really could have made a difference. You don't always know who are the other Catholics going through the same thing as you."

Jim Murray, former general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, agrees. "There has never been a greater need for an organization like Catholic Athletes for Christ," he said. "Young kids are hungry for this message. If you can deliver it through a catcher's mitt or a goalie's mask or whatever, all the better. We really underestimate the hunger young people have for faith."

This is my body

CAC founder Ray McKenna said a central theme of CAC is that the saints, who have the most profound relationship with Jesus, best exemplify a "personal relationship with Christ". Since sports ministry across the United States is predominantly run by evangelical Protestant and non-denominational groups who frequently use this phrase, McKenna believes it is crucial for Catholic athletes to understand the fullness of a relationship with Christ. Since our relationship with Jesus is only fully realized within the entire body of Christ, the team aspect of sports is a natural tool for this teaching.

The CAC team is on the field spreading this Good News.

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Catholic Athletes for Christ (CAC) serves Catholic athletes in the practice of their faith and shares the Gospel in and through sports. Visit them at http://www.catholicathletesforchrist.com/index.htm

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