For Major League players, weekends are devoted to baseball—and it can be pretty difficult for a Catholic athlete to find time to attend Sunday Mass.
But at Detroit’s Comerica Park, the athletes, stadium employees and journalists can attend Mass each weekend the Tigers play on the home field. That’s because Comerica Park is one of 19 stadiums around the country to offer a Sunday liturgy.
Father Ron Richards, pastor of St. John Neumann parish in Canton, Michigan, first proposed the idea of a private liturgy to Comerica Park officials; and he was subsequently named the team’s Catholic chaplain. As chaplain, Father Richards celebrates Mass a few hours before game time, in a lower-floor room which is often used for media interviews. He is also available for confessions.
According to the Detroit Free Press:
The services at Comerica started after Richards contacted Catholic Athletes for Christ last year; the group was created after the late Pope John Paul II’s “call to evangelize the world of sports,” it says.
After getting the OK from Comerica Park officials, Richards started the services during the first home stand and became the Catholic chaplain of the stadium, available for services like confessions. The mass is not open to fans; the stadium has had a nondenominational service on Sundays.
A lifelong Tigers fan, Richards used to be a swim coach at Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills.
“I never thought I’d be the chaplain of the Tigers,” Richards said. “Having this is sort of a grace I’ve been given, that’s really cool.”
Pope John Paul II encouraged priests and others to bring the New Evangelization to the world of sports. Speaking on the occasion of the Jubilee of Sports on October 29, 2000, the Pope said:
“It is a fitting occasion to give thanks to God for the gift of sport, in which the human person exercises his body, intellect and will, recognizing these abilities as so many gifts of his Creator.
“Playing sports has become very important today, since it can encourage young people to develop important values such as loyalty, perseverance, friendship, sharing and solidarity.
“Sports, in fact, can make an effective contribution to peaceful understanding between peoples and to establishing the new civilization of love.
“Sports contribute to the love of life, teaches sacrifice, respect and responsibility, leading to the full development of every human person.
“Every Christian is called to become a strong athlete of Christ, that is, a faithful and courageous witness to his Gospel. But to succeed in this, he must persevere in prayer, be trained in virtue and follow the divine Master in everything.
“Lord Jesus Christ, help these athletes to be your friends and witnesses to your love. Help them to put the same effort into personal asceticism that they do into sports; help them to achieve a harmonious and cohesive unity of body and soul.
“May they be sound models to imitate for all who admire them. Help them always to be athletes of the spirit, to win your inestimable prize: an imperishable crown that lasts forever.”