Limerick Diocesan Sport Conference

Gerard Hartmann & Mickey Harte (seated 2nd and 3rd from the left) with the rest of the speakers at the Synod Sports Conference

During this year Limerick, a small diocese in the Southwest of Ireland, close to Dublin, is celebrating a Diocesan Synod. Limerick is a city and county in love with and passionately interested in Sport.

Thus, on the 24th of February two special keynote speakers took part during the one-day conference titled ‘Building Community – Lessons from the World of Sport’ for sporting organizations included in the Synod. Mickey Harte & Gerard Hartmann, both from Limerick, talked about how to build community through sport and the value of fellowship in sports and faith.

Mickey Harte, is the current—and most successful—Gaelic football manager of the Tyrone senior inter-county team. He is considered one of the best tacticians in the game and is admired both by peers and former rivals.

Drawing analogies between sport and his faith, Harte said that being willing to take responsibility is one of many prerequisites for sport that also apply to faith.  “In sport people have to take responsibility for their own performance. You must ask yourself, ‘am I doing everything I can to be the best I can be’?  This also applies to our faith and we certainly cannot shirk responsibility.

“We cannot blame the scandals of the Church.  We can’t just take a position that because of those scandals we just don’t bother doing anything, participating in any way.  We can’t just say that is representative of the entire Church because it’s not.   A minority of people were responsible for those abuses so you cannot dye everyone with the same brush.

“There are so many good people and priests who did great things for the Church, for communities, for the country.  If you think otherwise you have to consider perhaps what lens are you looking through. There were far more who did good than who didn’t and we need to think about that.”

He continued,  “There is an incredible sense of identity around sport.  There’s the club, which we all identify with. Then there’s the county and you can go onto the province and even your country; in GAA that can happen with the international rules.  But we also have a sense of identity with our faith but we are way too apologetic about this. “Why should we not be as proud of our catholic faith as we are of our club colours?  As Catholics we are part of the biggest team in the world and we should be proud of that.  We should be able to say who I am and this is what I believe.”

The veteran of 12 championship campaigns as Tyrone Gaelic football team Manager said that there are many parallels between faith and sport, including leadership.  “Good teams don’t have just one or two. In a good team everyone decides they want to be a leader.  They step forward and set the example – everyone decides to do that.  But we need leadership in faith life as well. We have priests, religious people and others who always been there for us but we need that in the laity as well.  We all need to be willing to step up and play our part and give leadership in our faith.”

“Discipline is also critical. You have to be disciplined.  There are socialite athletes and there are dedicated athletes.  The socialite athletes are the ones who are out during the weekend and don’t win an awful lot as they don’t apply themselves.  They are the people who take short-cuts, don’t run around the cones.  They are the ones who don’t turn up for training on time.

“It’s the same in faith, we need to make sacrifices.  Take Lent for instance; isn’t it great to be able to do something, to be able to say when Easter Sunday comes ‘what a day it is’ that it is the culmination of something special you have done. That you have run the race and lasted the time. That’s discipline.”

“You also need consistency in faith.  There’s no point being a flash player here and there and then disappearing for 20 minutes or more in a game.  That’s also true for life and faith.  You have to understand that it is a journey and that you have to apply yourself to be being better, all the time.  You must work continuously to have a deeper faith, more prayer and be consistent with your approach to prayer.”

On the other side Gerard Hartmann, one of the most notable physical therapists who has treated some of the world’s sport stars, insisted faith plays an important role in sport, particularly for athletes who are attempting to overcome debilitating injuries. “With some injuries, time heals, others need a lot of work and commitment. As a physio the challenge is always there to expedite injury time, to help athletes cope through their crisis, to educate them and give them hope, to facilitate the healing process in mind, body and spirit.”

“Where we see strong communities you typically see faith and sport being prominent. Together they are the matrix for many great parishes and communities,” he said. “It is recognized that prayer is powerful. Healing induced by having others praying for the sick or injured – positively works. The belief that healing can be transferred through prayer or faith is, in my opinion, very real.”

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