By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
About 600 Catholic high school football players knelt in the pews at Holy Family Church on Poplar Level Road to pray the rosary July 27 in preparation for the start of the sports season.
The event was a “rosary rally” organized by SportsLeader, a Louisville-based national training program for coaches focused on teaching virtue. This event was part of a 22-city SportsLeader National Rosary Tour.
The athletes represented Trinity, St. Xavier, Holy Cross and DeSales high schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville and Our Lady of Providence Junior-Senior High School in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The students took part in eucharistic adoration, followed by the rosary.
But prior to prayer, Father Michael Wimsatt, administrator of the Cathedral of the Assumption and director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Vocation Office, spoke to the young men about why prayer is important.
There are “three reasons why we pray,” Father Wimsatt said to his young listeners.
- The first reason for prayer is that “we’re not only bodies, but souls destined to live forever.”
- Secondly, Father Wimsatt said, prayer is important because “God is calling us to be saints. Without prayer, it’s impossible to become what God calls us to be.”
- Thirdly, Father Wimsatt said, “God deserves our presence. Attention is one of the greatest gifts we can give. God deserves our attention.”
Drawing the students’ focus to the Eucharist exposed on the altar, Father Wimsatt said, “The Eucharist is far more than bread. It’s the real presence of Christ.” He asked that they take the moment to “speak to God and listen to God speak to you.”
Following the rosary, the athletes heard from Father Shayne Duvall, associate pastor of St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky., and associate director of the Vocation Office. He discussed “what it means to be a witness on and off the field.”
Father Duvall mentioned the recent waves of violence in the United States and the world.
In spite of what is going on in the world, the students’ give him hope, he said.
“Seeing young, energetic, passionate men in church, God’s holy place, gives me a lot of hope,” said Father Duvall.
He shared with the young men that sports were always present in his life. As a student, he played sports and later on in life he worked as a referee at Catholic high schools and as a broadcaster for the Louisville Bats baseball team.
“I was surrounded by sports,” said Father Duvall. Prayer, he noted, was always at the center of these activities.
“Every game I had, every game I officiated or announced, I gave thanks to God, because he allowed me to have those gifts,” said the priest.
He shared with the young football players the story of St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, who was martyred for calling himself a Christian.
“That’s what it means to be a witness, to put your life on the line for Christ,” said Father Duvall. He urged them to “bring Christ to the huddle” as well as to their family and friends. “Be great on and off the field, because brothers, the church needs you. The world needs you.”
The event ended with the recitation of a prayer to St. Sebastian and the Divine Praises.
Demetrius Dillard, a junior at Holy Cross High School who attended the rally, said the event was important to him.
“During the season we’re going against each other,” said Dillard. “But, it’s important that we come together as a people and as a faith.”
Dillard said he believes it’s important to “get in touch with God. Prayer is a way of doing that. The rosary is a uniform way we can all do it.”
Paul Passafiume, president and founder of Sports-Leader, called the event a “good and beautiful thing.”
“It’s good for young people to experience the fullness of their faith with their peers,” said Passafiume during an interview following the rosary rally. He described the experience as “positive peer pressure.”
“Instead of creating negative peer pressure we create positive peer pressure for faith, goodness, truth and beauty,” he said.
To learn more about SportsLeader and the National Rosary Tour visit www.sportsleader.org.