Fr Leandro Lenin Tavares and his inter-religious team of ministers have had a unique task at the Olympic Games. They must cater to the athletes’ spiritual needs, reports The Tablet.
Fr Leandro was named chaplain of the Olympic Village by the Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, but the idea of having an inter-religious centre came from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It is a long-standing custom at the Games.
“Religious services are one among many which help to balance the lives of athletes,” Fr Leandro says. “It was a nice surprise to see that the IOC foresees this, and I am happy to serve in this context.”
Fr Leandro teaches in Rio de Janeiro’s propaedeutic seminary, where candidates for the priesthood take the first of three steps towards ordination. But he shares the passion of many Brazilians for sport and knows how important spiritual comfort can be for top athletes.
“Many of those who have already arrived in Rio travelled directly from other international championships and tournaments,” he explained when we spoke, four days before the opening of the games. “Some have been away from their families for two or three months. So, there is a mixture of homesickness, of missing one’s family, with a need to be warmly welcomed.
“Regardless of whether they win or lose,” Fr Leandro continues, “we are here to cry with those who weep and rejoice with those who are happy, letting them know that life goes on and that we are here to support and uphold them through the ups and the downs of competition.”
“We” refers to the large team of ministers of different religions that Fr Leandro co-ordinates at the inter-religious centre. “There are five religions with a permanent presence in the centre: Christianity – both Catholic and Evangelical – Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. These are the ones requested most often.”