Readying the Field for God

Interview on Evangelizing Youth Through Sports

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By Carmen Elena Villa
ROME, NOV. 9, 2009 ( Sports are an effective way to prepare young people for a meeting with God, according to a participant in a seminar on athletics, education and faith organized by the Vatican’s laity council.

Spanish Father Javier Agudo García, 54, participated in a discussion panel at the event, which ended Saturday in Rome.
The priest told ZENIT that pastoral ministers should implement “threshold pedagogy” in sports, that is, to make sports a school of values such as friendship, teamwork, and humility — in triumph or defeat — so that the young person can come to the threshold of evangelization.
“It is a privileged place that helps to understand the Gospel itself,” said Father García.
ZENIT: What makes a person look at sports with the eyes of faith?
 <br>Father Agudo García: Our faith is a way of looking at the world, it isn’t only a series of practices but a concrete position. The believing player must look at the other not as an enemy. Professional sports are something different, [it’s] where money is involved, where the one who loses does not win. For us God is the great arbiter and Christian values are his guide. This influence makes a difference — as it does in any activity — between those who look from the point of view of faith and those who do so from another perspective.
ZENIT: How can sports increase or strengthen the faith of one who practices it?
Father Agudo García: By the habits and values in which it plays out. The testimony of educators is important —  a few good educators giving testimony of [coherence] between what is done and what is lived. Sports thus become a small school in society. When the sportsman becomes a professional, he will have to compete not in the field of sport but with lawyers, doctors, chemists and physicians. And thus he will be able to apply the values he learned as a youth playing sports.
ZENIT: In your experience of work with young people, have you come across someone who discerned his vocation to consecrated life through the practice of sports?
Father Agudo García: I must say that it is usually not so miraculous as to come to the subject of vocation, but it does offer an approach to God. Sport is an excellent place for the young person to experience coexistence with others. The youngsters with whom I work belong to Christian families and their entering a dimension with others brings them closer to God.
ZENIT: Are you devoted to some sports saints?
Father Agudo García: In the folder of this seminar they have given us a booklet on St. Paul and sports. He referred much to sports, especially in the First Letter to the Corinthians; he made analogies with the Christian life. It is important to keep him in mind, especially now when we have just ended the Pauline year. He was a man with a vision who valued sport as a place and space of personal effort.”
ZENIT: What do you believe are some of the threats posed to sports today?
Father Agudo García: They are there in today’s world. Competitiveness that sees a god in money … a very harsh competitiveness that makes a person take recourse to doping because what matters is no longer the effort but only winning. So the essential values are blurred.
ZENIT: How do you see the fact that the Holy See gives space to sports through this seminar and the “Church and Sports” section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity?
Father Agudo García: If we have said that sport is a part of education, the fact that the Holy See is behind it, makes those of us who work in Catholic education see that there is support. In this way we realize the potential — I’m not sure if it is evangelizing [potential] but certainly brings all that initial pedagogy that leads the child to understand the Gospel.
ZENIT: Is there a film that highlights the pedagogic dimension of sports?
Father Agudo García: “Karate Kid” comes to mind, from 1984. I value it for that struggle, the effort of Daniel Larusso, (played by Ralph Marcchio) to learn when confronted with other youths of a Los Angeles gang who make a mistaken use of the practice of karate. It is a very educational film and, in fact, makes an analysis of two visions of sport which have been discussed in this seminar.”
ZENIT: Almost 10 years after the celebration of the Jubilee Year, what do you recall of John Paul II’s words during the Athletes’ Jubilee?
Father Agudo García: I remember that the Pope emphasized the formation of those of us who are educators, the importance that development has, which gives a horizon to life. We live in a world where young people have no clear orientation and those who are in sports have their fixed goals and an activity on which they center their lives.
 [Translation by ZENIT]

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