Catholic chaplains to support athletes at Paris Olympics

As athletes gear up for the Paris Olympics, over 120 faith leaders including a significant contingent of Catholic chaplains are preparing to provide spiritual support to approximately 10,000 competitors.

This initiative aims to assist those coping with the pressures and challenges of the Games, particularly those facing disappointment.

Jason Nioka, a former judo champion and deacon, leads some 40 Catholic chaplains. He emphasised the importance of grounding athletes.

Nioka stressed “We’ll need to bring them back to earth because it can feel like the end of the world after working on this goal for four or five years”.

Chaplains from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism have collaborated for months to establish a shared hall in the Paris Olympics village.

This space will offer worship services, prayers and a supportive, non-judgmental environment for athletes and staff, regardless of their faith.

Several complex challenges

Anne Schweitzer, who is coordinating Protestant chaplains, highlighted the group’s mission. “My goal is to have a Christian witness there, people who embody the love and care of Jesus, for the athletes who are under so much pressure.”

The demand for chaplaincy services is historically high, with over 8,000 requests during pre-pandemic Games.

This year chaplains are preparing for several complex challenges. These include adherence to France’s secularism laws and addressing potential impacts from global conflicts such as the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars.

The Greek-Orthodox Metropolis of France, led by Rev. Anton Gelyasov, contributes over two dozen chaplains.

Gelyasov stated their mission is twofold: to protect athletes in their vulnerability and to demonstrate the unity of different religions.

Each faith has been allocated 50 square meters in the Olympic Village’s multi-faith centre.

Jewish and Muslim leaders have positioned their spaces adjacent to each other, symbolising coexistence amidst geopolitical tensions. Buddhists and Hindus have donated part of their space to accommodate more Christian chaplains.

A welcoming place

Though discreetly located and signposted, the multi-faith centre aims to be a welcoming place for athletes seeking spiritual support.

Jeanne Le Comte du Colombier, the Paris Olympics committee’s project manager, noted that the visibility of religious symbols would be minimal – in line with French secular principles.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of France has initiated the “Holy Games” project. They set up the “Our Lady of Athletes” chapel in La Madeleine church, Paris. This initiative encourages the faithful to light candles with sports-related quotes and submit prayer requests online.

Rabbi Moshe Lewin, a Jewish chaplain, highlighted the spiritual dimension of their mission: “The geopolitical situation will impact athletes but the Olympic Games provide the incredible opportunity of meeting the other [dimension].”

Najat Benali from the Muslim chaplaincy echoed this sentiment. “We do worship, not politics. We will listen and explain we’re there to accompany the athletes. We’re not good resources to address geopolitics.”


AP News

CathNews New Zealand


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