Hundreds of young people have gathered near the London 2012 Olympic Park at the start of a 12-day evangelisation event called the Joshua Camp.
The camp is being held at St Bonaventure’s Catholic high school in one of the most deprived parts of East London, a mile away from the Olympic Park. It is hosted by the Sion Community.
Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood celebrated Mass on the first day of the camp, welcoming participants from every inhabited continent, with 21 countries represented.
In his homily, Bishop McMahon highlighted two particular Olympic themes: carrying the torch and running the race. He said that “in Ancient Greece, the concept of light was revered and was seen in contrast to darkness” with light and the torch becoming “a symbol of faith and hope in a darkened world”.
Speaking of welcoming the Olympic torch past his cathedral in Brentwood, he said he liked “to think that people also gathered to see and support those who were carrying the light”.
The bishop challenged those present, asking: “Do we try each day to follow Christ our light? Are we light bearers to our world, to those around us, by our way of life, by the way that we witness to Christian values?”
He then echoed the words spoken to young Catholics by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Britain in 2010, reminding them of Blessed John Henry Newman’s motto, “heart speaks unto heart”: “I want you to look into your own heart and ask yourself: ‘What kind of person do I want to be?’”
Bishop McMahon recalled that the ancient Games were nothing to do with medals made up of precious metals or national flags and anthems, but rather about “individual strength, skill, training, discipline and commitment”.
“It is sad,” he said, “when the emphasis today is solely on achievement. The earliest emphasis of the Games was on taking part rather than on achievement and success.”
Referring to New Testament, he urged those present to see “life as a race, a marathon, with only one thing necessary for us Christians, and that is not the winning so much as the keeping our eye on Jesus, remembering that our faith is not first and foremost built on teachings or doctrines or rules and regulations but around a person, the person of Jesus.
“The very important question we need to ask ourselves is this: ‘Is the person of Jesus real in my life or just notional?’ In your relationship with the Lord are you a Sunday acquaintance or a weekday friend?
“Run the race of life always with your eyes fixed on Jesus, knowing that this race isn’t for winners but rather for finishers.”
The young people are receiving training and catechesis about how to be a true Christian presence at the Olympic Games. They will then have the opportunity to go into the local areas and perform acts of service. These will include inviting local young people to engage in sport, to be a part of music and drama workshops and to be artistic and creative.
Daily liturgies, from the Office of Readings to the celebration of the Mass, are presented in a variety of languages. A number of Olympians have already agreed to visit the camp during the coming week.