One of the most prominent expressions of faith in the Olympic community has been occurring every day in Catholic churches nearby the games that are reporting heavy Mass attendance.
“I am delighted to be able to report that aside from there being three masses celebrated everyday within the athlete’s village itself, specifically for the athletes and officials, the highest attendance at any of the religious services is at daily Mass. There are a number of athletes and officials from various nations who are coming there every day and they are placing Christ at the beginning and the center of all they do”, says James Parker, Catholic Executive Coordinator for the 2012 London Games, to Vatican Radio.
Courageous Catholic Katie Ledecky of Maryland, who won the gold medal in the women's 800 freestyle on August 3, freely admits that she prays the Hail Mary before every race. The 15 year-old Ledecky, who will be a sophomore this year at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, said her strong Catholic faith is what keeps her focused on God and what matters most in life.
"I also love going to Mass every week. It's a great chance to reflect and connect with God. (My faith) has been a big part of my life since I was born," she told the Catholic Standard, the newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese, in an interview before heading to London for the Summer Olympics.
A longtime member of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, she has always loved St. Anne and took the name on her confirmation day. Being born on March 17, St. Patrick is also someone to whom she has a special devotion.
Another Olympic athlete, Carlos ("Litus") Ballve, who plays defense on the Spanish field hockey team, is planning to enter a Belgium seminary when the games are complete.
According to CNA/EWTN News, his conversion began in 2005 when he made a "deal" with God that if he helped his team in an important competition at the Under 21 (U-21) World Championships, he'd go to Medjugorje with his father. His team ended in third place. He kept his promise and went to Medjugorje, but said his life didn't change. He was still partying with girls, spending too much money, and rarely thinking about praying.
But “something inside of me said, 'Litus, you are free and you can do what you want, but right now you are not happy',” he told the Spanish daily, El Pais.
Even though he was at the peak of his game, he quit and went off in search of God. "I told him, 'I don’t know what’s wrong. Strange things are happening. I want to come clean with you, so here I am, do what you want.'”
His life began to change, and he only asked the Lord to let him fulfill his dream of playing in the Olympics before entering the seminary.
Ballve called his time at the games thus far “an incredible and precious experience.” He said he hopes “not only to win, but to grow in my living of the faith, sharing this with people from so many parts of the world,” the newspaper reported.
And who could forget the brilliant performance of 16 year-old Gabby Douglas, who won the gold medal in gymnastics. After winning the coveted gold on August 2, she told the world: "I give all the glory to God. It’s kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to him and the blessings fall down on me.”
A vivacious and bubbly girl, she seems only too happy to give the glory to God in spite of the fact that she has been criticized by some media outlets for her outspoken faith.
For instance, in an article appearing in Salon.com, journalist Mary Elizabeth Williams calls Johnson's faith "unnerving."
"If her performance in the women’s individual all-around didn’t blow your mind, you cannot possibly have been paying attention," Williams wrote. "Yet after her victory, one of the first responses that truly resonated for me was from a colleague who noted, “I would like her more if she were not so, so, so into Jesus'.”
Douglas won't be cowed, however. Immediately after winning the gold, she tweeted: "Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.”
Regardless of the criticism of the secular world around them, these Olympic athletes are going for the gold alright - the kind that can only be found in the Kingdom of God.
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