Members of more than thirty sporting clubs and schools in the parish of Armagh gathered in their sporting colours in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday 8 October for a Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate the ‘Family of Sport’. Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh, was chief celebrant at the Mass, which forms part of the ongoing preparations for the World Meeting of Families, taking place in Dublin from 21–26 August 2018.
In his homily, Archbishop Martin said, ‘Last year just before the Olympic games in Rio, Pope Francis prayed “that sports of every kind may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between peoples and may contribute to peace in the world”.
‘Brothers and sisters in the family of sport, I’m not sure if your training sessions and games leave you thinking that you are contributing to world peace! But let’s reflect on what Pope Francis was getting at.
‘On several occasions our Holy Father has spoken about how sport gives people a sense of their human dignity and worth, and an appreciation of the unique talents God has given them. From the Olympic stage to Croke Park, from Wembley stadium to all the grounds – big or small – around the country, sport helps you develop not only your gifts and abilities, but also your health and respect for life.’
He continued, ‘Sport brings us “out of ourselves”. It helps us realise that we are much stronger when we work together; it encourages us to be less selfish, allowing the talents and contribution of others to add value to what we can do by ourselves. The lessons for life which we learn through sport can be applied in school, the workplace, in the community and at home with our families. Being part of a team not only increases the joy of victory and winning, but it also teaches us to be there for one another in moments of disappointment, failure and defeat.’
Archbishop Martin went on to say, ‘This evening, to help prepare for the World Meeting of Families next August in Dublin, we are celebrating the “families of sport” within the family of God’s Church. We thank God for those whose dedicated commitment to our young people has borne great fruit for our community and our parish. In many ways sport is about belonging, nurturing, encouraging, about brotherhood and sisterhood, about and celebrating and sometimes consoling; these are precisely the qualities and characteristics that we associate with strong family life and with the life of the Church. A caring family will bring out the best in all of its members; it looks out for its members when they are doing really well, and also it is there to encourage those who may be struggling. Just as a supportive sports family celebrates success and also picks you up when things have gone badly, the Church is also there for you in good times and bad.
‘I encourage you to stay close to God in the family of the Church. You are always welcome in the family of God’s Church. The Church needs you, your gifts and your energy, your hopes and dreams for the future. I know how much commitment you bring to your sports. Please do not forget your faith. Like your physical fitness, your spiritual wellbeing also needs effort, nourishment, time and commitment.’
‘I want to acknowledge tonight the contribution that the family of Sport makes to the life of our community. Local teams help to instil pride, identity, solidarity and loyalty. Let us remember this evening those who first founded the various clubs in this parish – some have gone to their rest and are joined in prayer with us tonight.’
Archbishop Martin concluded his homily saying, ‘When you look back over the history of any club you realise that what makes sports clubs and teams special is that sense of family, belonging and of connectedness. Every club likes to celebrate its achievements – the trophies won and the tournaments played. It is also good to recognise the human stories, the dedication of the players, the coaches, officials and their families.
‘We know that every family is strengthened by prayer and faith, and so it is fitting tonight that your families of sport, present and past, are joined here to give thanks to God for all that has been achieved in and by your clubs. I pray that the story of faith, family, friendship, fraternity, achievement, harmony and human dignity will live on in your sports and clubs for many more years to come.’
Photograph by Liam McArdle