By Anita S. Bourdin
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, MARCH 26, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The South African bishops are developing resources for soccer’s World Cup fans, including a virtual chapel where people can light a “candle” for their teams and donate money to charity.
Some 75 days before the FIFA World Cup begins on June 11 in Johannesburg, the Church is already “on the field” with various projects such as a new Web site for the “Church on the Ball” initiative.
ZENIT spoke with French journalist Antoine Soubrier, who has been working in South Africa at the service of the South African bishops’ conference (which includes the countries of South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland) for more than two years.
Soubrier was sent to Africa by the NGO Fidesco International to reinforce the conference’s communications service and to develop different media offices.
In this interview with ZENIT, he spoke about the site that he helped design and other ideas under way for promoting Church participation in the upcoming international sporting event.
ZENIT: You have designed the “Church on the Ball” Web site for the 2010 Soccer World Cup that will take place in South Africa. How did the idea of this project arise?
Soubrier: I began by creating a simple page on the Web site of the episcopal conference several months ago, proposing some reflections on topics such as the Church and sports, the trafficking of women and children, AIDS, the family.
This page alone had more than 10,000 visits in a few months, showing that it responded to an important need. That is why we decided to create a Web site dedicated to the event.
This World Cup, the first to be held on the African continent, is an excellent opportunity for the Catholic Church in South Africa — where it is a minority (8% of the population) — to speak about the extraordinary work it does with the poor.
A site on the Internet was the cheapest and easiest means to reach the greatest number of people!
ZENIT: The Franciscan archbishop of Durban, South Africa, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, supports you completely. How did you speak to him about your idea?
Soubrier: He has taken part in this project from the beginning.
He himself is a great sports fan! The idea of an original and attractive Web site motivated him immediately.
It is an extraordinary tool for Catholics who will come for the World Cup to know the schedule of celebrations, the different ecclesial events organized around the stadiums, the situation of the Church in South Africa, the great places of pilgrimage, etc.
It is also a good opportunity to talk about the work of priests and laypeople committed to the following of Christ, to proclaiming the Gospel and to serving the dignity of women and men who live in South Africa.
The interest of the South African general media (which speaks of the Church only on rare occasions and often in a negative way) in this Web site is a stimulus for us to continue with this work of communication.
ZENIT: It is an interesting Web site, full of rhythm and humor — even from the archbishop — for those who are and are not soccer fans, for all who are fans of Jesus. Who is the primary audience?
Soubrier: This Web site is addressed to the whole world, but in the first place to Catholic fans, to help them participate in the life of the local Church that will receive them.
It is also addressed to South African Catholics, to make them feel proud of their Church through this lively and modern tool, among other things, which pays homage to their culture and faith.
Finally, the Web site’s good references will certainly attract visitors of other religions and nonbelievers.
It is an opportunity to highlight the values preached by the Church, such as charity, love of neighbor, dialogue with other religions and cultures, etc.
Moreover, sports hold some of these same values: respect, perseverance and patience.
A touch of humor will soon permit Catholics to take part also economically in the life of the local Church.
We are creating a virtual chapel, in which candles will burn with the colors of the soccer teams selected for the World Cup.
The visitor will be able to buy a candle with the colors of his favorite team (for a minimum of €2, around $2.67). The money will go directly to local charitable projects.
ZENIT: Could you say more about the other resources being offered such as a World Cup “book of prayers?”
Soubrier: This booklet is intended to be a practical and spiritual aid for Catholic fans.
It suggests numerous prayers, the majority reflections written by a South African priest, but also information on the parishes closest to the stadiums, their contact data, and emergency telephone numbers.
It is a sort of “pilgrim’s booklet” for fans. If we find the means for quality printing, several hundred thousand copies will be distributed in all the country’s parishes.
ZENIT: A follower of the professional soccer club Paris Saint-Germain died in Paris after confrontations between opposing fans from the two ends of the Parc de Princes stadium. What do you have to say to violent fans?
Soubrier: We address all fans, regardless of how they are.
To answer your question, I would simply take a quotation from Cardinal Napier in the editorial page of our Web site: “Don’t forget that the true victory is the one that allows for the consecration of the dignity of persons.”
This is the message we wish to send![Translation by ZENIT]
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On the Net:
Church on the Ball: www.churchontheball.com