St. Sebastian, patron saint of athletes and of Rio

St. Sebastian, patron saint of athletes and of Rio August 8, 2016

You don’t have to believe in the Roman Catholic cult of the saints to find it interesting that St. Sebastian–the one who was shot through with arrows–is the patron saint of athletes.  Also of this year’s Olympics host city Rio de Janeiro.  What is the connection?  Find out after the jump.

Luther said that we should not pray to the saints, but that we can learn from their example.  Note what we can learn about athletics from St. Sebastian.

From Kimberly Winston, The ‘Splainer: Who is St. Sebastian and why do athletes claim him? |Religion News Service: 

Q: Who was the real St. Sebastian? . . .

A. His story, first recorded by St. Ambrose, goes like this: Sebastian was deeply upset by Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians, so he joined the Roman army to help them from within. He hid his Christianity and became a member of the elite Praetorian Guard.

When Sebastian’s Christianity was discovered, Diocletian took a special interest in his punishment. He ordered Sebastian bound to a stake in a field, where a phalanx of archers shot him full of arrows. Ambrose described him as looking like a sea urchin, and dozens of artists have depicted the saint like a pincushion. . . .

But Irene of Rome, the widow of another Christian martyr, crept into the field at night to recover Sebastian’s body, and she found him alive. She took him home and nursed him back to health.

Q: And they lived happily ever after, right?

A: Wrong. The recovered Sebastian waited for Diocletian in the streets of Rome and upbraided him for his cruelty to Christians. The emperor was not amused and ordered his guards to beat Sebastian with clubs and dump his body in a public sewer, where he died.

Q: If Sebastian was beaten and overcome, why is he the patron saint of athletes?

A: Because of his great physical strength and endurance in overcoming the attacks on his body to personally confront a more powerful opponent in the emperor. Yes, he went down, but he went down giving it all for his faith. Ray McKenna, president of Catholic Athletes for Christ, says Sebastian reminds us of an important element of both sport and Christianity — suffering.

“Athletes can relate to St. Sebastian,” McKenna said. “They say, ‘If he can endure that, I can go the extra mile.’”. . .

Q: How did Sebastian become the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro? Was that something the city adopted after it was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games?

A: Catholics believe saints act as their advocates with God. So it is very common for Catholic organizations, groups and individuals to adopt a patron saint. Cities — especially those founded by the Catholic monarchies of Spain and Portugal in Latin American — are no exception.

Rio was founded by the Portuguese in 1565 and named for St. Sebastian, the patron saint of their monarch, Dom Sebastiao. The city’s full name is Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro (Portuguese for “St. Sebastian of the January River”), and today the saint’s name and image can be found all over the city of 6.5 million. His name and image grace Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião, the city’s main cathedral, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro, and is embedded in the city’s coat of arms in the form of three arrows.

Suffering!  That is, indeed, a key factor for athletes, experiencing suffering and persevering anyway.

That may be one of the few realms in our culture today that still tolerates and honors suffering.

This is another reason, in addition to its community-building value, why sports can be ennobling.

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