When the World Cup kicks off throngs of fans will mingle with crowds of faithful venerating the relics of St Thérèse, says Michail Rassool he World Cup, which takes place in South Africa from June 11 to July 11, partly coincides with the visit to the country of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux for three months.
Fr Shaun von Lillienveld of Johannesburg archdiocese says that he and other members of the local organising committee believe the timing couldn’t be better. He says this even though the periods of the two events do not coincide completely and have been organised separately.
Nevertheless, he says, the visit of the relics is so good for the various dioceses in whose cities and towns World Cup matches are taking place.
Fr von Lillienveld explains that the period of the visit – June 25 to September 27 – was the slot made available for South Africa by the shrine of St Thérèse in Lisieux, France’s second most visited pilgrimage site after Lourdes.
The administrator of Christ the King cathedral in South Africa’s biggest diocese says they will be accompanied by spiritual, liturgical and catechetical programmes aimed at enriching local spiritual and social ministries.
He says for part of the time millions of Catholics from across the world – both football fans and players – will have descended on the country, especially from “soccer countries” such as Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Italy, France and Mexico.
The fact that the relics of St Thérèse are in South Africa is a boon for the local Church’s efforts to play a spiritual role in the World Cup, Fr von Lillienveld says The priest says that, although he is not personally involved in the coordinated response from the Church to FIFA’s premier event, it does give local bishops and clerics a chance to minister to people of many different cultures, outlooks and spiritual experiences.
He says that the World Cup has the potential to be the finest hour of South Africa’s 3.3 million Catholics in terms of integrating their sporting interests into their spiritual lives.
Meanwhile, Salesian Fr Francois Dufour, head of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s organising committee for the World Cup, says matches will be played in the archdioceses of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban. They will also be played in the dioceses of Rustenburg (North West province), Port Elizabeth (Eastern Cape), Polokwane (Limpopo province in the north, close to the Zimbabwean border) and Witbank (in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga province).
Fr Dufour says the bishops have declared a World Cup Celebration Sunday for June 13, the first Sunday after the tournament’s opening.
“In all the dioceses and parishes of Southern Africa special liturgies will be celebrated that day,” he says.
The Salesian says that the recently launched Church on the Ball website (Churchontheball.com) is attracting “thousands of visitors”. The site includes informa tion about the World Cup and the Catholic Church in host cities, including contact details, as well as spiritual and evangelising material.
Instead of setting up a network of World Cup chaplaincies the South African Church will rely on existing diocesan and parish structures to serve Catholic visitors.
Fr Dufour says that participating parishes “will organise celebrations – liturgical, social and sporting – in the days nearest to the games. They will make an effort at being especially welcoming to foreign fans.” He says the bishops’ conference is also linking some of its activities to the World Cup. Its Anti-Human Trafficking Desk, for example, has produced a striking “red card” poster available free of charge from the bishops’ headquarters at Khanya House, central Pretoria.
It is widely believed that women and girls, especially, may be trafficked to South Africa to serve a booming sex trade at the time.
The bishops’ family life desk has introduced the theme Families Play the Game for 2010. Monthly sub-themes connected to football “allow for reflection and sharing on topics such as fair play, keeping the rules, and so on”, Fr Dufour explains. “Families are encouraged to pray and play together, or just watch the World Cup games together, and sometimes switch off the TV.” The priest is also encouraging the staging of intraparish football tournaments for boys and girls.
“This will be an ideal time to organise sports events with a spiritual component included,” he said. “Soccer fever will peak, and it should be easy to attract participation.” He said some Catholic schools were also organising mini-soccer tournaments in the mornings, with World Cup match screenings in the afternoons, followed by praise and worship moments and guest speakers.
Moreover, various youth organisations and diocesan chaplains are planning special youth Masses just before the first matches in each of the host cities are to be played.
A 40-page World Cup booklet, Praying and Playing, has been compiled, consisting of traditional prayers as well as some original prayers relating to the event and sport. With a print-run of about 100,000 copies, Fr Dufour said, this will be distributed free of charge.
Meanwhile, the worldwide travels of St Thérèse’s relics, which began in 1995, have taken them to every continent and many countries. They visited England and Wales for the first time last year, from September 16 to October 7, a successful visit with much ecumenical engagement.
In South Africa, from the archdiocese of Johannesburg the relics will travel to Tzaneen (Limpopo), Aliwal (Eastern Cape), Kokstad (Eastern Cape) dioceses, convent of the Capuchin Poor Clare Sisters of Mariannhill diocese (KwaZuluNatal) and Umzimkhulu diocese (KwaZulu-Natal). Afterwards, they will visit the Archdiocese of Cape Town for two weeks, where the Carmelite Sisters will proudly host their fellow Carmelite’s relics as well as two parishes (with room for more) before they return to Johannesburg.
In Johannesburg archdiocese they will be hosted by the Carmelite Convent in Benoni on the East Rand, Christ the King cathedral, Berea, Yeoville, Victory Park, Edenvale and 11 other parishes. The relics then travel to Pretoria where one parish will host them.
“We would like to stress that we hope the coming of the relics will inspire people, strengthen their faith, and challenge us to live our faith and follow our callings, as St Thérèse followed hers,” Fr von Lillienveld says.