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Incontro con Fr. Chris Townsend
Information Officer of the Office for Communication and Media South African Catholic Bishops' Conference
The Catholic Church and the World Soccer Cup in South Africa (2010)

The Catholic Church and the World Soccer Cup in South Africa (2010)

ROMA (2.11.2009)Fr. Chris Townsend, who is currently Information Officer of Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, working for the Southern African Bishop’s Conference, spoke on Monday to Santa Croce’s communication department about the unique considerations which the upcoming World Cup has raised for the Church in South Africa. 

In a world that rejects religion but still recognizes society’s intrinsic need for community and purpose, he said, “we begin to realize that the role of football has taken over the role of the Church”.  His most recent project with the Conference – entitled “On the Ball” – is a program which has set out to use the World Cup as a forum for exposing the real works of the Church to both South Africans and soccer enthusiasts.  The international event – which is set to go from June 11 to July 11, 2010 – raises a series of challenges and considerations in matters of economics, health, culture, and most importantly, faith.

The 2010 World Cup has already begun to create both new opportunities and new challenges for the South African Church.  In order to accommodate the millions of expected tourists, the government has made many improvements to the overall infrastructure of the country.  Many of these – including the improvement of transportation, and the expansion of internet bandwidths – will provide long-term benefits that the Church will be able to utilize in Her ministry.  The Church has been taking advantage of these new communication opportunities, especially in the area of online promotion through the improved bandwidth; through their website, the Bishop’s Conference has provided a link to the “On the Ball” campaign, which includes “Blow your horn”, a cultural reference to “the South African approach to joy and intimidation” and call proudly exclaim their enthusiasm for the Church. In addition, the migration of tourists from all over the world will help to enrich our awareness of the diversity in the world, and help us to understand and unite within our common desire for faith. 

The question being put forth with the “On the Ball” campaign essentially is, “What can we show you about the vibrancy of the Church?”. Townsend spoke of the challenges that he is faced with in this area, for in spite of the tremendous work that the Church does for the people of South Africa – from its ministry to AIDS patients to its fight against human trafficking – the media is consistent in its negative representation of Her, especially in the areas of woman’s rights and HIV.  In order to show to the media the positive social action of the faith, the “On the Ball” campaign hopes to create a network of Catholics on the community level who will show the good works of the Church.  We want to demonstrate that “the Church really exists for people”, even though, as far as some media are concerned, “you’re not going to see it”.  We are living in a world of Twitter and minimalist news sources, where we must come up with a way of “expressing a complex faith in only a few words”.  We must do this by showing the good works of the Church with only a few words, and thereby “bring people to the point to where they will want to seek, and to find.

di Ann Dorothy Schneible

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