International News

Catholic Churches in Paris Conducting Holy Games During Summer Olympics, Paralympics

The Olympic rings are displayed on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower in Paris ahead of the Paris 2024 Games. (Photo: OSV News/Christian Hartmann, Reuters)

WASHINGTON—The French Catholic Church will welcome athletes and spectators to Paris this summer during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Archdiocese of Paris and the French bishops’ conference decided to use the huge influx of people in the area for the Olympics (July 26-Aug. 11) — more than 10,000 athletes will be participating, and millions of spectators are expected — as a chance to evangelize.

The effort, called Holy Games, will involve more than 70 parishes that will welcome visitors in different languages with special Masses, devotions, talks, and concerts.

The project started months ago. Last September, a chapel called “Our Lady of Athletes” was set up in the Paris church, La Madeleine, to be a place for contemplation and prayer. Visitors can light votive candles, submit prayer intentions on a touchscreen linked to a monastic community, and seek spiritual support through a chaplain.

The Holy Games is also working to bring homeless and migrant communities to some of the Olympics festivities.

Many of the initiative’s events will involve young people in different areas of France taking part in training courses, volunteer work, and times of prayer.

For the past several months, the Holy Games has sponsored events to promote its summer outreach, including a Parish Church Tour in April, which was a 6.2-mile run from Notre Dame Cathedral to other churches in Paris. The project has also hosted soccer tournaments such as the “Pater Cup,” where local priests competed against each other.

The day before the Summer Olympics begins, prayers for a blessing of the athletes and a distribution of the Miraculous Medal will take place at the Cathedral of Saint-Denis in Paris. A closing service at the end of the Paralympic Games (Aug 28- Sept. 8) will also be held at this cathedral.

The Holy Games intend to “seal an alliance between the Church and sport, between holiness and play, in the service of the individual, his or her dignity and the common good,” according to the official program on the group’s website.

The International Olympic Committee reached out to the Holy Games initiative to supply chaplains for the Olympic Village, which will include a vast structure that accommodates representatives of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths. About 40 specially trained Catholic chaplains, who also love sports, will take turns being on duty for the duration of the Olympic Games.

One essential task of an Olympic chaplain is to spiritually support athletes after they lose an event.

In an interview, recently ordained Father Jason Nioka, a former judo champion who will lead the group of Catholic Olympian chaplains, said that one of their critical roles is to help bring athletes “back to earth.”

“It can feel like the end of the world after working on this goal for four or five years,” the French priest said.