South African Church Is "On the Ball"

Prepares World Cup Campaign Targeting Men

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PRETORIA, South Africa, SEPT. 2, 2009 ( The Catholic Church in South Africa is planning to contribute in its own way to soccer’s upcoming FIFA World Cup, which it will host next summer.

The bishops’ conference announced the launching of the «Church on the Ball» campaign to encourage all the country’s dioceses to plan hospitality programs for foreigners, who will be in the country for the soccer competition next June and July.

The campaign is also calling for initiatives to pastorally care for the athletes. One such project was a sports ministry conference that took place last June, in which Church leaders presented their plans for the evangelization the of sports arena.
For South Africa’s bishops, the World Cup represents an opportunity to show the vitality of African Catholicism. Thus, they invited local communities to welcome the groups that will visit the country next summer.
Toni Rowland of the bishops’ conference Family and Life Delegation, and one of the campaign organizers, explained that soccer is «South Africa’s most popular sport, [even] more than a sport; for many it is a religion or style of life.»
He added: «Undoubtedly the 2010 World Cup will have an impact on South African society in many aspects, not just the economic. It would be a pity if only the secular world, the media, and tourist groups are present.»
Rowland explained that the bishops’ conference is familiar with the initiatives undertaken by the German prelates during the previous World Cup in 2006. These included religious services in several languages and ecumenical relations.
Moreover, the organizer expressed the hope that this event will serve to «unite families» around the games, and that it will not be «just for men in pubs and living rooms.»
He continued, «Young and mature men, who usually are less involved in the parishes, might be surprised to see their Church interested in something secular, and it is to be hoped that this will encourage them to participate in hospitality and, in some way, in pastoral care.»

Special concerns
Along with these initiatives, the bishops are also considering the possibility of negative effects that the World Cup might bring, especially in regard to prostitution and drugs.
Religious congregations and other groups have expressed concern over the increase in human trafficking, especially women and children, that usually accompanies sports events.
Sister Melanie O’Connor, coordinator of the conference’s Counter Trafficking in Persons desk, has repeatedly noted this concern, given that Africa’s southern cone has suffered this problem for years.
The nun asserted that those most at risk are children, among other reasons, because the country’s schools will be closed during the World Cup.
She is working with a team on a campaign to increase awareness of these risks, and to protect the dignity of the South Africans.

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