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Catholic ministry for professional athletes gets back in the game


Jim Barber | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 06/01/21

Catholic Athletes for Christ is finding ways to keep athletes connected as pandemic guidelines persist.

Catholic Athletes for Christ (CAC), an organization that ministers to professional athletes, is on deck and ready to get back in the game. Since the world pandemic began, CAC has been unable to hold in-person worship services for players. Now, after more than 14 months of pandemic precautions, fans are returning to the seats and Catholic athletes are getting back into the pews. 

Since its founding, CAC has been predominantly active in the NFL and MLB. The Catholic Herald explains that, prior to the world pandemic, CAC’s work provided the means for athletes to fit worship into their busy schedules. Other services provided by chaplains included confession, prenuptial counseling, general pastoral advice or just a friendly ear.

For now, chaplains are only allowed minimum contact with the players, but they’re making the most of it. Although many of the 32 teams’ cities are still following social-distancing guidelines, CAC has found a digital means to reach the players. Each week, one of CAC’s 32 team chaplains produces a video reflection on the Gospel of Matthew

The digital medium is a tired trope, but one that has filled the gap left by the loss of in-person worship. After over a year of watching Mass at home, this may seem like one small step back towards normalcy. However, to Fr. J.D. Jaffe, CAC’s liaison to the NFL, it is a giant leap and one that fills him with hope. He said: 

“We know that the Lord encourages us to look for ways to bring forth growth from all things. Like anything else, (the pandemic) is an opportunity for growth.”

Catholic Athletes for Christ was founded in 2006, by Washington attorney Ray McKenna. An avid baseball fan, McKenna took to volunteering to work with team-based charities in the early 2000s. It was then that he began to notice that Protestant players had organized faith services to attend, while Catholics did not

McKenna found that many teams had informal arrangements with local Catholic priests, but there was no organized network. Soon after, Fr. Jaffe was tapped as one of CAC’s first chaplains and he saw a similar need in the NFL. Together, they launched the CAC ministry, holding short, 30-minute services for Catholic players to attend in between a hectic schedule of meetings and practices. 

As the pandemic guidelines loosen in many cities across the U.S., CAC hopes to soon be back to normal. Until then, McKenna says, they will continue to reach the players by whatever means they can. He said: 

“We are kind of feeling our way back, trying to work within the rules,” McKenna said. “We’ll get there.”

Read more about CAC’s efforts and player testimonies at the Catholic Herald.

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